Pony Express Day is on April 3 every year. This annual observance celebrates the innovative founders and brave riders who made up the Pony Express, quick delivery, and mail service of the early 1860s. The Pony Express was born back when there were no message delivery and postal services as we know today to link the far west — and most especially, the new state of California — with the rest of the United States. Thanks to its dogged riders and diligent staff, the Pony Express revolutionized the speedy delivery of messages and packages. The mail service ultimately spurred the creation of catalogs and enabled people to purchase products which are delivered by horse.
History of Pony Express Day
The Pony Express was a mail service that specialized in the delivery of mail, newspapers, and other packages through horse-mounted riders. This revolutionary mail delivery service operated between California and Missouri for 18 months — from April 3, 1860, until October 24, 1861, when its operations were shut down. The Pony Express was established following California’s population explosion and newfound prominence due to the Gold Rush.
The massive influx of prospectors, investors, and businessmen to California necessitated the existence of a fast route to deliver mail and other communications to the Pacific Coast. The Pony Express was founded by three businessmen — Alexander Majors, William Russell, and William B. Waddell — who were already freight and drayage tycoons. Officially known as Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company, the Pony Express — at the peak of its operations employed 6,000 men, and had 75,000 oxen, warehouses, and thousands of wagons. The company became the West’s most direct means of east-west communication before the establishment of the transcontinental telegraph.
During its 18-month operation, the Pony Express reduced the time for conveying messages to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to about ten days — offering great financial importance to the U.S. The Pony Express preferred to employ young, light, and resilient riders, as the owners believed that lighter riders would enable the horses to run faster and carry more cargo. While the average coast-to-coast trip on horseback took ten days, the trip that delivered Lincoln’s Inaugural Address actually took less time — just seven days and 17 hours! Sadly, the Pony Express struggled financially and folded in 18 months, when the faster transcontinental telegraph service was established. It pioneered the establishment of a unified transcontinental system of communications that could operate around the year.
Pony Express Day timeline
The Pony Express’s inaugural westbound trip leaves St. Joseph on April 3 and arrives ten days later in Sacramento, California.
The Pony Express riders carry Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address from Nebraska to California in just seven days and 17 hours!
The Pony Express officially folds in October, having lost as much as $200,000.
The U.S. Postal Service announces it had trademarked “Pony Express” along with “Air Mail”.
Pony Express Day FAQs
How many Pony Express riders died?
Historical accounts show that seven Pony Express riders died on the job: four riders were killed by Native Americans; one was hanged for killing a man after he got drunk; two froze to death, and one died in an unrelated accident.
How did the Pony Express get its name?
Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company — the business’s official name — was considered too long for many. The byname was derived from the 58-inch tall, 900-pound-weighing horses (ponies) that Alexander Majors acquired for the project.
How many miles did a Pony Express rider ride in one day?
Riders traveled an average of 75 to 100 miles a day, switching horses every ten to twelve miles.
Pony Express Day Activities
Remember the brave riders
Pay tribute to the adventurous young riders who served at the Pony Express — such as 14-year-old Billy Tate who was killed tragically by Paiute Indian bandits while en route. A great way is to dress up like a rider and watch equestrian events commemorating the challenges those brave souls faced while on the job.
You can also use this opportunity to read more about the Pony Express, the ambitious founders, incredible riders, and the sturdy horses they used for business. You’ll be wowed with the beautiful details you’ll find.
Host a Pony Express memorial party
Throw a party at home. Make chili and cornbread — a common staple of the old American West. Print out logos, pictures, and other souvenirs online. You can also watch the 1953 movie “Pony Express” featuring Charleston Heston and Rhonda Fleming.
5 Interesting Facts About The Pony Express
Floated in two months
Russell, Majors, and Waddell organized and put together the Pony Express in two months in the winter of 1860.
Riders had to take a loyalty oath
Co-founder Alexander Majors required each employee to take an oath saying that they wouldn’t curse, drink, or fight.
Riders carried special pouches
Each rider carried a mail pouch called a ‘mochila’ — the Spanish word for ‘pouch’ or ‘backpack’ — with him.
Horses were changed during trips
A rider was expected to dismount and switch to a fresh horse every 10 to 12 miles.
An amazing feat
During its 18 months of operation, the Pony Express delivered 34,753 letters and made 308 complete runs, covering a distance of about 616,000 miles — equivalent to circling Earth over 30 times!
Why We Love Pony Express Day
Despite failing to win an exclusive government mail contract, the founders of the Pony Express set up the company in just two months in the winter of 1860. Talk about ambition and a never-say-die attitude!
Much of the company’s successful operations during its 18-month stint are due to innovative managerial strategies. However, the heroic riders who worked tirelessly are the true backbone of the speedy mail delivery service.
Celebrating the pioneer spirit of the Old West
While Pony Express ended abruptly due to insolvency and the advent of the telegraph, it’s now an adorable part of the American West lore. On Pony Express Day, we remember the rugged riders, their innovative employers, and the tough animals that made up the company!
Pony Express Day dates