The first transcontinental mail service to San Francisco begins - HISTORY
Year
1858

The first transcontinental mail service to San Francisco begins

On this day in 1858, the new Overland Mail Company sends out its first two stages, inaugurating government mail service between the eastern and western regions of the nation.

With California booming, thanks to the 1849 Gold Rush, Americans east and west had been clamoring for faster and surer transcontinental mail service for years. Finally, in March 1857, the U.S. Congress passed an act authorizing an overland mail delivery service and a $600,000 yearly subsidy for whatever company could succeed in reliably transporting the mail twice a week from St. Louis to San Francisco in less than 25 days. The postmaster general awarded the first government contract and subsidy to the Overland Mail Company. Under the guidance of a board of directors that included John Butterfield and William Fargo, the Overland Mail Company spent $1 million improving its winding 2,800-mile route and building way stations at 10-15 mile intervals. Teams of thundering horses soon raced across the wide open spaces of the West, pulling custom-built Concord coaches with seats for nine passengers and a rear boot for the mail.

For passengers, the overland route was anything but a pleasure trip. Packed into the narrow confines of the coaches, they alternately baked or froze as they bumped across the countryside, and dust was an inescapable companion. Since the coaches traveled night and day, travelers were reluctant to stop and sleep at one of the “home stations” along the route because they risked being stranded if later stages were full. Many opted to try and make it through the three-week trip by sleeping on the stage, but the constant bumping and noise made real sleep almost impossible. Travelers also found that toilets and baths were few and far between, the food was poor and pricey, and the stage drivers were often drunk, rude, profane, or all three. Robberies and Indian attacks were a genuine threat, though they occurred far less commonly than popularly believed. The company posted guards at stations in dangerous areas, and armed men occasionally rode with the coach driver to protect passengers.

Though other faster mail delivery services soon came to compete with the Overland Mail Company-most famously the Pony Express-the nation’s first regular trans-western mail service continued to operate as a part of the larger Wells, Fargo and Company operation until May 10, 1869, the day the first transcontinental railroad was completed. On that day the U.S. government cancelled its last overland mail contract.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Lehman Brothers bankruptcy

On this day in 2008, the venerable Wall Street brokerage firm Lehman Brothers seeks Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, becoming the largest victim of the subprime mortgage crisis that would devastate financial markets and contribute to the biggest economic downturn since the Great ...read more

Tide turns in the Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain reaches its climax when the Royal Air Force (RAF) downs 56 invading German aircraft in two dogfights lasting less than an hour. The costly raid convinced the German high command that the Luftwaffe could not achieve air supremacy over Britain, and the next ...read more

U.S. forces land at Inchon

During the Korean War, U.S. Marines land at Inchon on the west coast of Korea, 100 miles south of the 38th parallel and just 25 miles from Seoul. The location had been criticized as too risky, but U.N. Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur insisted on carrying out the landing. By ...read more

First trenches are dug on the Western Front

In the wake of the Battle of the Marne—during which Allied troops halted the steady German push through Belgium and France that had proceeded over the first month of World War I—a conflict both sides had expected to be short and decisive turns longer and bloodier, as Allied and ...read more

NLF calls for general military offensive

The National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, or as it was more popularly known, the National Liberation Front (NLF), calls for a general military offensive to take advantage of the ‘disarray’ among the South Vietnamese, particularly after the abortive coup attempt ...read more

Athletics clinch pennant

On September 15, 1931, the Philadelphia Athletics beat the Cleveland Indians to clinch their third consecutive American League pennant. The win was the ninth and final American League championship of legendary manager Connie Mack’s storied career.Connie Mack was born Cornelius ...read more

James Madison marries Dolley Payne Todd

On this day in 1794, future President James Madison marries Dolley Payne Todd, a vivacious widow who went on to embrace the role of first lady and White House hostess.While Madison was serving as secretary of state from 1801 to 1809, Dolley assumed the role of White House hostess ...read more

Future President William Taft born

On this day in 1857, William Howard Taft is born in Cincinnati, OhioTaft was born into a politically active family; his father had served as President Ulysses S. Grant’s secretary of war. He attended college at Yale University, graduating second in his class. He then attended ...read more

Agatha Christie is born

Mary Clarissa Agatha Miller, later known as Agatha Christie, is born on this day in Torquay, Devon, England.Raised and educated at Ashfield, her parents’ comfortable home, Christie began making up stories as a child. Her mother and her older sister Madge also made up stories: ...read more

Train plunges off bridge

A commuter train plunges off a bridge into Newark Bay in New Jersey killing 47 passengers on this day in 1958. The accident was the result of mistakes made by the train’s crew.The first bridge across Newark Bay was built in 1864. In 1926, this bridge was updated. Now made of ...read more

A Bible school instructor abducts a teenage girl

Thirteen-year-old Melissa Benoit disappears in her hometown of Kingston, Massachusetts, on her way home from a friend’s house. Although the town detective talked to everyone who lived on the path between the two houses, no one admitted to having seen Benoit. Soon afterward, the ...read more

Khrushchev arrives in Washington

Nikita Khrushchev becomes the first Soviet head of state to visit the United States. During the next two weeks, Khrushchev’s visit dominated the news and provided some dramatic and humorous moments in the history of the Cold War. Khrushchev came to power in the Soviet Union ...read more