Around 1850 the United States began to
grow rapidly. New land was added to the country. The discovery of gold in
California brought thousands of settlers to the west coast. The United States
had been about 1,000 miles from east to west. Suddenly it was about 3,000 miles
The U.S. postal service had a big
problem: How could the mail travel between the East and California?
The postal service had two solutions.
Neither solution was very good. Either stagecoaches carried mail on the trails
the settlers used, or the mail was taken by ship around the tip of South
America. Either way, the trip took about a month. When the mail finally
arrived, it was very old.
Then, in 1860, the Pony Express began.
The Pony Express went from the state of Missouri to Sacramento, California. It
had 400 horses, 80 riders, and 180 stations. The stations were about ten miles
apart. Riders went as fast as twenty-five miles per hour from one station to
the next. At each station a new horse would be ready. Within a minute the rider
was off again. Each rider went seventy-five miles before passing the mail to
the next rider. The mail was delivered within ten days!
The Pony Express riders faced many
dangers. They had to cross rivers, mountains, and deserts. They had to travel
throughout the night and in all kinds of weather. The riders could be attacked
at any time by bandits or Indians. Yet only one rider died, and he died after
he had delivered his letters. The mail was lost only once.
Around the same time that the Pony
Express started, the telegraph was invented. In 1861 a telegraph line was built
across the country. News that took eight days to reach California now took only
one hour. What the riders could do in eight days, the telegraph could do in an
hour. So, the Pony Express ended just eighteen months after it had begun.