The Pony Express was the first fast overland mail service to the Pacific Coast. During the Civil War, it helped preserve the Union by providing rapid communication between California and Washington, DC.
Although the Pony Express was proposed to Congress in 1855, it was not established until 1860, when the impending Civil War put one of three transcontinental mail routes in danger.
The Pony Express opened on April 3, 1860, with riders leaving St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California, simultaneously to race the route's 1,966 miles. The eastbound trip took almost 10 days, and the westbound trip11 days-about half the travel time of stagecoaches.
Although California relied almost entirely upon the Pony Express for news early in the Civil War, the line was never financially successful. It lasted only 19 months until the Pacific Telegraph line, shown under construction in this painting, ended the need for its existence.