Saturday, April 3, 2010

3 April 1860: Birth of the Pony Express

Born on 3 April 1860. Yes, but can you tell me when it died? October 24, 1861, actually (and it had shrunk to a western regional service already by March 1861). Well, they never told us that when we were kids, did they?

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.

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)
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.

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?)

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