It was 161 years ago today that the first Pony Express riders set out to deliver the mail. From History.com …
On April 3, 1860, the first Pony Express mail, traveling by horse and rider relay teams, simultaneously leaves St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. Ten days later, on April 13, the westbound rider and mail packet completed the approximately 1,800-mile journey and arrived in Sacramento, beating the eastbound packet’s arrival in St. Joseph by two days and setting a new standard for speedy mail delivery. Although ultimately short-lived and unprofitable, the Pony Express captivated America’s imagination and helped win federal aid for a more economical overland postal system. It also contributed to the economy of the towns on its route and served the mail-service needs of the American West in the days before the telegraph or an efficient transcontinental railroad.
The Pony Express debuted at a time before radios and telephones, when California, which achieved statehood in 1850, was still largely cut off from the eastern part of the country. Letters sent from New York to the West Coast traveled by ship, which typically took at least a month, or by stagecoach on the recently established Butterfield Express overland route, which could take from three weeks to many months to arrive. Compared to the snail’s pace of the existing delivery methods, the Pony Express’ average delivery time of 10 days seemed like lightning speed.
The Pony Express Company, the brainchild of William H. Russell, William Bradford Waddell and Alexander Majors, owners of a freight business, was set up over 150 relay stations along a pioneer trail across the present-day states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. Riders, who were paid approximately $25 per week and carried loads estimated at up to 20 pounds of mail, were changed every 75 to 100 miles, with horses switched out every 10 to 15 miles. Among the riders was the legendary frontiersman and showman William “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917), who reportedly signed on with the Pony Express at age 14. The company’s riders set their fastest time with Lincoln’s inaugural address, which was delivered in just less than eight days.
The initial cost of Pony Express delivery was $5 for every half-ounce of mail. The company began as a private enterprise and its owners hoped to gain a profitable delivery contract from the U.S. government, but that never happened. With the advent of the first transcontinental telegraph line in October 1861, the Pony Express ceased operations. However, the legend of the lone Pony Express rider galloping across the Old West frontier to deliver the mail lives on today.
You might be wondering why I’m making a big deal over this, but bear with me.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) was actually already in existence when the Pony Express came onto the mail delivery scene, having been established in 1775 with Benjamin Franklin as its first Postmaster General. So, why the need for the Pony Express nearly a full century later? Because the USPS wasn’t doing such a great job, apparently.
Now, the reason I bring up the Pony Express is that once again, the USPS is doing a pretty lousy job under the leadership of the highly unqualified Louis DeJoy. DeJoy just announced a new “10-year plan,” which is one way to describe the largest rollback of consumer mail services in a generation. His plan includes longer first-class mail delivery times, reduced post office hours, and higher prices. It seems to me that his ’plan’ is already in action, as the last card I sent took 15 days to arrive at its destination.
Last year DeJoy crippled the Postal Service. He banned employee overtime, decommissioned mail-sorting machines, and removed drop boxes. He did this during a deadly pandemic that had millions of Americans relying on the mail for their medications, businesses, and safely voting by mail in November’s election.
Speaking of medications … my insulin sat in the Post Office from last Saturday until this past Wednesday … unrefrigerated and undelivered. Why? Good question, and one I fully intend to ask Mr. DeJoy! Although … he hasn’t answered either of my last two letters … perhaps the USPS hasn’t managed to deliver them yet? Funny that they sit on my insulin, but manage to deliver all the junk mail that goes straight into the trash bin.
President Biden has nominated three members to the USPS Board of Governors with the intention of removing Mr. DeJoy and hiring someone qualified to do the job without costing us an arm and a leg and ensuring that our mail is delivered in a timely fashion. But of course, the Senate must have much more important business to attend to, for they haven’t yet gotten ‘round to confirming these three.
So, I’m wondering if it might be a good idea to re-instate the Pony Express? We would, no doubt, get our mail quicker and for about the same price. Given the volume of mail in this country, there’s no doubt they could upgrade to faster horses and think how many jobs would be created! We could leave the USPS in place for the time being, a service for those who seem to like being ripped off by our own government.