The first Pony Express service left the American city of St Joseph in Missouri destined for Sacramento in California.
Established shortly before the first transcontinental telegraph, the mail service used mounted riders and was, for its short operational lifetime, the fastest way to send messages from one coast to the other. Operated by the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company, the first pouches of mail – known as a mochila – arrived at both their East and West destinations on the 14th April, ten days after they departed.
The joint founders of the company, William H. Russell, Alexander Majors, and William B. Waddell, were already established businessmen in the American freight and drayage industry. The three men had each developed significant experience of transporting goods and equipment to the Pacific Coast as the population grew rapidly in the aftermath of the gold rush that began after 1848.
The partners established the Pony Express with the hope of winning a lucrative government mail contract, which in the end they did not secure. Adding to their financial pressures, just a few weeks after operations began the outbreak of the Paiute War resulted in around $75,000 worth of damage to Pony Express property. Despite its place in frontier lore, therefore, the business was a financial failure.
Sources indicate that despite grossing up to $90,000 the Pony Express lost in the region of $200,000 during its short 19-month operation. Unable to recoup its losses through the long-sought after government contract, it was made obsolete as soon as the transcontinental telegraph began operating on October 24, 1861. The closure of the Pony Express was announced just two days later on October 26, 1861.