When the first ever Pony Express rider reached the Pony Express Wharf at 1:00 a.m. on April 14, 1860, he was greeted by cheering crowds, fireworks, and public speeches celebrating his long-awaited arrival. Reaching San Francisco signaled the end of the inaugural journey of the Pony Express, which had begun in St. Joseph, Missouri, just ten days earlier. The Pony Express ran in both directions, westbound and eastbound, between Missouri and California.
In rain, snow, sleet, and hail, Pony Express riders were responsible for carrying mail between the western frontier in Missouri and the Pacific coast of California, including many of the newer communities that had formed after the Gold Rush of 1849. Pony Express riders traveled on horseback over an arduous route of mountains and deserts while riding at full speed. The journey was conducted as a relay in which a single rider handed off a mochilla (Mexican saddlebag) filled with letters to the next rider on the route, with each rider traveling between 60-100 miles, while riding as many as six different horses during each relay leg of the route.
The Pony Express was founded by three men in the stagecoach business (William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell) who hoped that establishing such a daring enterprise would help their company to win a new government contract for overland transit in the west. However, the Pony Express ultimately operated at a large financial loss to its founders. It was a risky venture, not only financially, but especially for the riders and horses who risked their lives throughout the journey. Yet, the dashing speed of the Pony Express proved to many who had previously doubted that faster communication across the vast nation was indeed possible.
Although the Pony Express operated for less than two years, it was significant in linking the nation together during a tense period before the Civil War when some people believed that California's secession from the Union was imminent. The operation of the Pony Express officially ended in October 1861, only after a system of copper telegraph wires was installed across the western U.S., facilitating nearly instantaneous communication and thus largely replacing the need for the Pony Express. After its official termination in October 1861, mail continued to be carried by Pony Express for several more weeks during November 1861, until every letter had reached its intended destination.