Leaving St. Joseph, Missouri.
Spurred by the threat of the Civil War and the need for faster communication with the West, William H. Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors founded the Pony Express. Most people knew it was only a matter of time before the telegraph and the railroad would span the nation, but with the Civil War looming on the horizon, something was needed now. Russell, Waddell, and Majors were already in the freight business in 1858 with 4000 men, 3500 wagons, and 40,000 oxen and they held government contracts for delivering army supplies in the West. Russell envisioned a similar contract for mail delivery. They proposed a fast mail service between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California by Pony Express with letters delivered in the unheard of time of 10 days. Russell, Waddell, and Majors put the Pony Express together in a two-month period during the winter of 1860. It was an enormous undertaking. 156 stations, 400 horses, and hundreds of employees were assembled during January and February of 1860, all without the benefit of telephones, radio, telegraph, or even mail service. An ad for employees read: "Wanted, young skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen, must be expert riders willing to risk death daily, orphans preferred. Wages $25 a week. Apply Central Overland Express." Russell, Waddell, and Majors selected the first floor of St. Joseph's Patee House, the newest hotel, as their headquarters. More than 30 riders checked into the hotel. Majors, a religious man and resolved "by the help of God" to overcome all difficulties, presented each rider with a bible and required this oath: "While I am in the employ of A. Majors, I agree not to use profane language, not to get drunk, not to gamble, not to treat animals cruelly, and not to do anything else that is incompatible with the conduct of a gentleman. And I agree, if I violate any of the above conditions, to accept my discharge without any pay for my services." The Pony Express consisted of relays of men riding horses carrying saddlebags of mail across a 2000-mile trail. On April 3, 1860, the service officially opened when riders simultaneously left from St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. On that day, more than a century and a half ago, the people of St. Joseph gathered to witness an event as exciting in those days as space travel is to this generation. The first westbound journey was made in 9 days and 23 hours. The eastbound trip took 11 days and 12 hours. The riders covered 250 miles in a 24-hour day. Eventually, the Pony Express had more than 100 stations, 80 riders, and between 400 and 500 horses. Only one mail delivery was ever lost on the extremely hazardous express route. The Pony Express service lasted until October 24, 1861, when the completion of the Pacific Telegraph line ended the need for its existence. Unfortunately, the Pony Express was never a financial success, but the drama surrounding it made it a part of the legend of the American West.