Pony Express

Of all the ventures in which Wells Fargo participated, the Pony Express is still the one that fires the public imagination the most. Although the Pony Express lasted less than 19 months, images of young riders galloping to delivery mail from families and friends thousands of miles away embody America’s courage and determination.
The Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company (COC&PPE) set out to secure a million-dollar government mail contract by organizing a pony express service that would run year-round between Missouri and California and deliver mail in 10 days, as opposed to 25 days by stagecoach. The Pony Express started service on April 3, 1860.
To put their plan in motion, COC&PPE bought 400 ponies chosen for speed and endurance. It set up relay stations about 10 to 20 miles apart along the 1,966 mile route, and hired some 125 expert riders. Laden with about 20 pounds of mail, each rider was expected to travel eight miles an hour, switching to a fresh horse at each relay station, until completing a course of about 75 miles. At that point, a new rider would take the mail and continue the journey until the destination was reached.
Sculptor Thomas Holland cast a swift horse and rider in his Model for a Heroic Monument to the Pony Express in Sacramento, California.
Photo courtesy: Rob Prideaux.
Through the Pony Express, people in California first heard the outcome of the 1860 Presidential election, as depicted in this 1925 painting by Maynard Dixon titled “Lincoln Elected!”
Photo courtesy of Rob Prideaux.
Pony Express riders switched horses to keep moving quickly.
Pony Express riders carried mail secured in pockets of a leather saddlebag called a mochila, designed so that the entire saddlebag, letters and all, could be quickly transferred from one horse to another.

Much romance has been injected... in the history of the Pony Express, but my own experience compels me to say it was a stern reality.

William Pridham, former Pony Express rider and Wells Fargo agent, 1922

Despite its delivery success, the COC&PPE faced mounting debt, and critics claimed its initials stood for “Clean Out of Cash and Poor Pay Express.”
In April 1861, Wells Fargo, which controlled the Overland Mail Company and had a government contract to provide daily mail service by stage over the central route, was given charge of the western end of the Pony Express route from Salt Lake City to San Francisco.
Typically young, single, and daring, Pony Express riders quickly became the darlings of newspapers and novelists.
This envelope, stamped and franked by Wells Fargo, went by pony Express from Sacramento to St. Joseph in ten days, and from there to Utica, New York, soon after.
Customers first paid $5 per ½ ounce of mail (about $100 today.) Wells Fargo lowered rates to $1 per ½ ounce.
In this illustration, a Pony Express rider passes workers building the transcontinental telegraph line. Once complete, the telegraph offered instantaneous communication coast to coast for the first time in American history. It also meant the end of the Pony Express.
In October 1861, the creation of the transcontinental telegraph forced the central overland Pony Express to suspend operations. Wells Fargo continued to operate a Pony Express service between Virginia City, Nevada, and San Francisco until 1865.
In 2010, Wells Fargo released this special edition plush pony “Lightning” to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Pony Express. Learn More.