“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” That’s the unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service. But as late as 1861, swift meant horses, and for Americans between Missouri and the West Coast, it meant the Pony Express. With daring riders like “Buffalo Bill” Cody carrying the mail to relay stations throughout the West, messages could be transmitted coast-to-coast in a blistering 10 days.
“Excitement was plentiful during my two years’ service as a Pony Express rider,” Buffalo Bill recalled. But two years was all he would serve, for on October 24, 1861, the first transcontinental telegraph linked the nation’s East and West coasts. Two days later, the Pony Express was no more.
Perfected by Samuel Morse and other inventors, the telegraph (sometimes called “talking wires”) uses electrical signals to transmit information via wires. In the 1830s, Morse also developed Morse Code, a series of clicks that correspond to English letters. Telegraph transmissions commonly used Morse Code and were decoded at the receiving station.
The telegraph was used to send some of history’s most famous messages:
- May 24, 1844, first telegraph message by Samuel Morse: “What hath God wrought?”
- December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers: “Successful four flights Thursday morning.”
- May 31, 1897, Mark Twain from London: “”The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”