The service closed just two days after the completion of the transcontinental telegraph rendered it obsolete.
NPR has a nice story today, calling attention not only to the beginning, but also to the problematic character and (actually quite timely) end:
The Pony Express dispatched its first rider from St. Joseph, Mo., on April 3, 1860. It was an all-out, high-speed information delivery service that traversed nearly 2,000 miles of open, desolate and hostile land.In 1869, the government created a stamp commemorating the service: the first such issue that did not depict a founding father or early president. Wells Fargo adopted the rider as its logo, and the late nineteenth-century already artificial cult of the "West" and the cowboy did the rest.
The goal was to bring faster mail service to California. As a business proposition, it was a total failure. The service was expensive — $5 a letter (more than $100 by today's standards). But as a Western legend, the Pony Express has been going strong for 150 years. (read the rest)
Getting rid of an inefficient service, which nonetheless commands a strong emotional loyalty beyond its value and years? It would be interesting to think of contemporary parallels. (To start with: The Space Shuttle, anyone?)