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.
Photo courtesy: Rob Prideaux.
Photo courtesy of Rob Prideaux.
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.
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.