Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Pony Express cost $290 per ounce!

Of course you’ve heard about the Pony Express riders, those guys were tough caballeros.

The Pony Express mail service—from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California—was inaugurated on April 3, 1860, just as the Civil War was starting to get hot.

Those hardy riders, including 14-year-old William Cody (he became “Buffalo Bill”), accomplished almost unbelievable feats in the saddle to keep the almost unbelievably expensive mail service in operation for about 18 months.

You may not have heard that the first transcontinental telegraph line put the Pony Express out of service more or less instantly in October 1861. Talk about disruptive technology!

The Pony Express was a good idea waiting to happen. The state of California was admitted to the Union in 1850, but it was essentially out of touch with the eastern states. Regular mail carried on boats took about a month to travel from the East Coast to the West Coast. The Butterfield Express overland stagecoach could carry mail and packages across the western plains in about three weeks at best, and sometimes the stage didn’t make it through.

The Pony Express riders could take a mail packet (about 20 pounds) from Missouri to California in 8-10 days. Unbelievable!

The riders made $25 a week (about $722 in current collars) to cover 75-100 miles per shift, jumping on a fresh mount every 10-15 miles. The Pony Express had about 80 riders on the payroll, and stabled 400-500 horses in more than 100 relay stations along the route.

Here’s another unbelievable factoid: it cost $5 in 1860 to drop a half-ounce of mail into the Pony Express packet. That’s about $145 in current dollars—a 20-pound mail packet was worth about $93,000.

Of course, there were substantial operating costs, but William Russell, William Waddell and Alexander Majors thought they were going to make a killing when they put the Pony Express into operation. However, they never nailed down the juicy government contract they hoped for, and then those pesky pre-Silicon Valley guys rolled out the telegraph….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015

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