Today in History: October 24
The Transcontinental Telegraph and the End of the Pony Express
On October 24, 1861, the first transcontinental telegraph system was completed by Western Union, making it possible to transmit messages rapidly (by mid-nineteenth-century standards) from coast to coast. This technological advance, pioneered by inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, heralded the end of the Pony Express. Only two days later, on October 26, the horseback mail service that had previously provided the fastest means of communication between the eastern and western United States officially closed.
The short-lived Pony Express had been established only one and one-half years earlier, in April 1860. Initially a private enterprise under the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company, it operated –at its fullest extent--from terminuses at St. Joseph, Missouri, to San Francisco, California, using a continuous relay of the best riders and horses. The nearly 2,000-mile route—running through present-day Kansas, Nebraska, the northeast corner of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California—included vast stretches of rugged terrain once thought impassable in winter.
Pushing the physical limits of man and beast, the Pony Express ran nonstop. During a typical shift, a rider traveled 75 to 100 miles, changing horses every 10 to 15 miles at relief stations along the route. Station keepers and stock tenders ensured that changes between horses and riders were synchronized so that no time was wasted. For their dangerous and grueling work riders received between $100 and $125 per month. A few riders with unusually treacherous routes were paid $150, more than twice the salary of the average station worker.
Summer deliveries averaged ten days, while winter deliveries required twelve to sixteen days, approximately half the time needed by stagecoach. The Express logged its fastest time delivering President Lincoln's first inaugural address, seven days and seventeen hours.
Some 200 horsemen rode for the Pony Express. Most were in their late teens and early twenties and small in stature. Famous riders included William "Buffalo Bill" Cody and "Pony Bob" Haslam.
For more resources on mail delivery, Western Union, the telegram, and the telegraph, search across American Memory collections.
- Read a firsthand account of the Pony Express, by former rider George S. Stiers in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 - 1940.
- “The Pony Express” by W. F. Bailey in The Century , from The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals recounts the origins of the service, details of rides, costs incurred, and more.
- Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, 1933-Present contains drawings, photos, and data pages of the Hollenberg Pony Express Station in Washington County, Kansas.
- Use the full-text option and search in “California as I Saw It”: First –Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849-1900 on pony express to read reminiscences.
- Learn more about Samuel F. B. Morse and Alexander Graham Bell and the 19th-century revolution in telecommunications.
- A Century of Law Making for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875 yields numerous documents on mail routes and mail delivery. See, for example, An Act to Facilitate Communication between the Atlantic and Pacific States by Electric Telegraph, which provides the text of the June 16, 1860, act authorizing advertisements for sealed proposals for the construction of a magnetic telegraph.
- Search the Today in History Archive on Morse and Bell to learn more about Morse's dispatch of the first telegraph message, and Bell's invention of the first telephone and transmission of the first wireless telephone message.
- Search on the term pony express or mail in History of the American West, 1860-1920: Photographs from the Collection of the Denver Public Library to see images which include Seth Hathaway, a Pony Express rider who appeared in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, a bronze plaque to the Pony Express riders, and the making of the Warner Brothers film Limited Mail.
- Search the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog on Western Union to view numerous images—including those of Western Union buildings, telegraph operators, and messengers.
We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind…do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.
The United Nations (external link) (UN) Charter was ratified on October 24, 1945, bringing the international body officially into existence. The term "United Nations" was first used in the 1942 Declaration by United Nations, when representatives of twenty-six nations pledged to continue fighting against the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) in World War II.
From August to October 1944, representatives of the United States, United Kingdom, China, and the U.S.S.R. met at Dumbarton Oaks, an estate in Washington, D.C., to formulate plans for an organization to foster international cooperation after the war. The resulting Dumbarton Oaks proposals, along with provisions agreed upon by Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, formed the basis for the United Nations Conference on International Organization.
In April 1945, delegates from fifty countries met in San Francisco to draw up the final charter of the United Nations. It was signed on June 26 and ratified on October 24, 1945 by a majority of the other signatories. Poland, not represented at the conference, signed the charter later and became one of the original fifty-one member countries. Three years later, on December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Article 1 and Article 2, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (external link), 1948.
Learn more about the United Nations:
- The United Nations assumed many of the functions of the League of Nations, which had been championed by Woodrow Wilson at the close of World War I. Listen to advocates and opponents of the concept of institutional international cooperation voice their opinions in American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I and the 1920 Election, a collection of sound recordings from The Nation's Forum collection. To find text and recordings, search the collection on League of Nations.
- America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945 has numerous photographs of the United Nations from UN heroes marching in a parade to UN officers in their various uniforms; to find them, search on United Nations. There are also six photographs of a UN exhibit mounted by the Office of War Information in Rockefeller Plaza.
- The United Nations' Web site (external link), with information on the structure and work of the U.N. (external link) and its main bodies and main documents, includes the text of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (external link) and the Charter of the United Nations (external link).