National Postal Museum Celebrates the 150th Anniversary of the Pony Express with an Online Featured Collection

May 3, 2010
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The Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum has launched a new Arago featured collection “Remembering the Pony Express” in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Pony Express. It can be accessed at|s1=6|.

The legendary name of the Pony Express calls up thrilling images of horse and rider racing across treacherous terrain, yet the actual Pony Express lasted for less the two years (April 1860 –October 1861). Before the Pony Express, mail could take weeks, even months, to travel from the eastern to the Pacific states. William Russell, Alexander Majors and William Waddell proposed a relay system of horses to carry the mail across the dry, daunting and mountainous 1,966-mile central route between St. Joseph, Mo., and Sacramento, Calif. They boasted of 10-day mail delivery. Riders were assigned 75- to 100-mile-long portions of the trail, switching horses at relay stations. Riders carried letters, telegrams and newspapers. Mail was wrapped in oiled silk for protection and placed in the pockets of a specially designed saddle cover called a mochila that was whipped off of one saddle and tossed onto the next horse.

Although a financial failure, the Pony Express successfully filled the communication gap before the completion of the telegraph, provided westerners with speedier access to family and friends and paved the way for permanent transportation systems along the route.

The National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the colorful and engaging history of the nation’s mail service and showcasing one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of stamps and philatelic material in the world. It is located at 2 Massachusetts Avenue N.E., Washington, D.C., across from Union Station. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). For more information about the Smithsonian, call (202) 633-1000. Visit the museum website at

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