The first letter was delivered within the continental United States this week in 1860, thanks to the Pony Express.
According to the Washington Post, the first Pony Express mail pouch arrived at its Sacramento, California, destination a mere ten days after leaving St. Joseph, Missouri. Previously, American citizens had no way to contact those in the west, and vice versa.
In honor of the first United States mail service, the artists at Google created a game which would take players through the Wild West in a simulated manner. Along the way, riders would exchange horses, pick up and drop mail, and race as fast as possible to the intended destination. Your score would depend on how many letters you delivered and how quickly.
Leading the way in the game’s design was Matt Cruickshank, a Bay area illustrator who had previously done doodles for Google. A Londoner, Cruickshank came to America and developed an affinity for the American West. Cruickshank traveled up the Northern California coastline, sketching buildings from the Old West, as well as studying advertisements and art from the time.
“There were all those vintage posters, advertising for wiry, skinny riders who must be willing to risk death daily,” says Cruickshank, who decided to not use his poster designs. “I decided I wanted to broaden it and took away some of those touches.”
Vox reports that though the Pony Express is remembered as a durable service, the reality is that the Pony Express lasted only 19 months. Before the Pony Express, there was no way to connect people on the east coast to those who ventured out west for the California Gold Rush. Three businessmen, William H. Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors, decided to create a relay-style means of delivering letters and other items.
The idea would be that between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California, would be trading stations. A rider would start the 2,000 mile trek, stopping to pick up and deliver mail, then get a fresh pony and continue on. A Pony Express rider was able to get from St. Joseph to Sacramento in 10 days.
Thought the idea was sound, it was also costly. After 19 months, with the business bleeding money and the first telegraph lines having been installed and running, the Pony Express closed its doors. The biggest reasons for the closure were the telegraph lines, the Paiute war, and harsh, unpredictable weather made the business model impossible to maintain. However, The Pony Express opened the way to further open the west to the rest of the nation, and connected both coasts.
[Image courtesy of Google]