Continuing the Pony Express
It was an exciting start, but hardly a financial success. The owners knew it was only a matter of time before the telegraph would replace the Pony Express. The Pony Express ran each week in each direction, with an average time of 10 days. Delivery of Lincoln's inaugural address set a new record of slightly less than eight days. The mail averaged almost 250 miles a day. In the nineteen months the Pony Express existed, only one rider was killed by hostile Indians, and only one bag of mail was lost. The riders had covered 650,000 miles by horseback.
Exciting as it was, the Pony Express was never a financial success. It was never a part of the United States Postal service, although the galloping Pony Express rider was the official symbol on every letter carrier's shoulder until the invention of Mr. Zip. The most significant thing the Pony Express accomplished was to help hold California, and its gold, for the Union at the start of the Civil War.
Russell, Majors, and Waddell lost $500,000 on the Pony Express. Eventually Ben Holladay became the owner of what remained of the Pony Express. He merged it with his Central Overland Stage Lines.
William Russell, former president, died in 1872, broke and shunned. William Waddell never went back in business. A son was killed in the Civil War, his property was sold for taxes, and he, too, died broke in 1872. Alexander Majors returned to freighting and in 1867 moved to Salt Lake City. He took part in construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, and died in 1900. Wealthy Ben Holladay died a poor man shortly after the Panic of 1873.
As a business venture, the Pony Express was a failure. It lasted only 19 months. But a century and a quarter later, it still fascinates the world as an example of good old American determination and know-how.
Today, the Pony Express, along with Jesse James who departed this earth here on April 3, 1882, keep St. Joseph on the map worldwide.
Visit the Pony Express National Museum website.