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The Legacy Of The First Major Express Courier

The logistics that allow for next-day couriers to take a package and deliver it within just 24 hours across the UK and Europe is astonishing, and the fact that it has become so normalised and widely available is a testament to the progress of the entire industry.

Modern express courier services rely on intelligent logistics route planning and a range of different vehicles that can include specially customised road vehicles and sea freight, with other vehicles also being part of the plans depending on the specialist needs of clients.

It is a system that only a few decades ago would have been impossible, and the inspiration for many couriers comes from the people and businesses of the past who also managed to achieve the impossible.

This includes travelling nearly 2000 miles in ten days in an age before planes, trains or automobiles.

The Legendary Pony Express

The Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company was not the first delivery service, nor was it even the first service that travelled the length of the United States.

However, it was both the fastest and ultimately most reliable way to send post across the country to what was still the “Wild West”, with both a rate of speed and reliability at the time believed to be impossible.

Whilst most postal services relied on large, relatively slow stagecoaches or large steamships that sailed the long way around the continent, William Russell, Alexander Majors and William B. Waddell worked together and conceived of another potential option.

Instead of having a single stagecoach carry packages from St Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California, which would necessitate stops, layovers and potential attacks, someone at Russell, Majors and Waddell suggested using a relay of horses instead that would effectively never stop.

Whilst horses and riders get tired, if a horse is ridden at top speed a few miles before being swapped, the post could move as if it had never stopped galloping, whilst the riders and horses could rest at one of the 186 Pony Express stations.

Whilst horses travelled roughly 15 miles at a time, riders were expected to swap horses as many as seven times and travel up to 100 miles. Infamously, some riders such as William Cody (aka Buffalo Bill), allegedly travelled 300 miles over 22 hours, although the veracity of this claim is unknown.

They were also paid more than any other courier at the time and quickly became folk heroes.

It was, in modern courier terms, as if the Pony Express was made up entirely of last-mile delivery systems but over 1900 miles.

It was a brutal and intense route for riders and horses alike, which necessitated the purchase of hundreds of Mustang horses, as well as riders who were exceptionally well-trained, knowledgeable, light and relatively young.

They also had to be fearless, given the speed that they were travelling at and the potential risk of travelling at night and in inclement weather conditions. After all, the mail had to go through, and nothing mattered more than the post.

Its first delivery took place on 3rd April 1860 and made it from St. Joseph to San Francisco in just ten days. The fastest delivery took just over seven days and included the news that Abraham Lincoln had been elected president.

However, whilst exceptionally fast for the time, the Pony Express was not fast enough to survive obsolescence, as just two days after the Transcontinental Telegraph line was completed in October 1861, the Pony Express went bankrupt.

It was never profitable at the best of times, and given that the rate of sending mail via the Pony Express was 25,000 per cent higher than the normal postal service of the time, it was only suitable for exceptionally fast messages that could be received quicker via telegram.

However, the dedication and reliability of the courier still inspire freight companies to this day, and the priority is, to this day, ensuring that the packages are delivered.

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