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5 Fascinating Facts You Didn’t Know About the Pony Express

This short-lived service has maintained a large presence in our historical imagination.

It's hard to imagine days without Prime delivery, instant downloads and fast food. But 160 years ago, things like mail took a really long time. The Pony Express changed delivery forever.

Here are five facts you probably didn't know about the Pony Express:

1. It actually was pretty fast!

pony express
  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Before the Pony Express, if you sent a letter from somewhere on the east coast to California, it would take upwards of 25 days. If it had to go by ship, it would take months. The Pony Express men began their deliveries in April of 1860. Their average delivery time was only 10 days. The riders set a record when they delivered President Lincoln's inaugural address to California in just seven days and 17 hours! But that speed came at a price.

2. It cost the modern equivalent of $100 to send packages on the Pony Express.

Each delivery initially cost around $5, which would be well over $100 today. So, suffice to say, the average person wasn't utilizing this service. Instead, things like newspaper and government reports or even business related material was sent on the Pony Express. The cost to send mail was high and so was the risk to those involved.

Related: Lysander Spooner: The Man Who Took on the U.S. Postal Service—and Won 

3. Your weight was a qualifying factor for employment.

pony express
  • Frank E. Webner, a Pony Express rider.

  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Not just anyone could be a Pony Express rider. They had to be between 100 to 125 pounds, brave and expert riders. One such advertisement for riders went even further. They specifically asked for men not over 18 who were willing to risk death daily and stated that orphans were preferred. All riders also had to sign an oath promising not to drink, curse or fight.

4. There were some serious logistics to maintaining the Pony Express.

When the owners started the company, they set up around 200 posts and relief stations across frontier country. Each rider would switch mounts every 10 to 15 miles at one of these stations and pass off their delivery to a new rider after about three or four days. Although history talks mostly about the dangers of being a rider, these posts were set up in very remote areas and often attacked or ambushed by Indians. More men who manned these stations died than riders.

Related: 7 of the Best American History Books 

5. The Pony Express lasted less than two years.

pony express
  • Pony Express 80th Anniversary stamp. 

  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Although this was an incredible advance in delivery for its time, it didn't last. Western Union developed a transcontinental telegraph line and launched it in 1861—rendering the Pony Express useless. Despite the fact that the Pony men only operated for 19 months, they would go down in history as legends. The Pony Express stories of bravery while racing across the Wild West have been retold a thousand times over, even if many of these stories have been exaggerated and are considered folklore.

The Pony Express trademark is now owned by the United States Postal Service and its history is richly celebrated. To learn more about the Pony Express, visit the website for their national museum.

Published on 29 Apr 2020

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