Notes from the Past

Butterfield Overland Mail - Part I

An Act of Congress of 1857 authorized the establishment of a mail service between the Mississippi River and San Francisco.

The route chosen by Postmaster General Brown started from both St. Louis and Memphis, coming together at Fort Smith, Arkansas., then on to El Paso, Fort Yuma, and north to San Francisco. [Examination of this route on a map shows it clings to the southern border of the western United States.]

Winner of the contract to run a semi-weekly service on this route was John Butterfield.

The Butterfield Overland Mail began service on September 15, 1858, from both ends of the route using Concord stage coaches.

The first trip in each direction was completed in less than the scheduled 25 days.  Within two years, Butterfield was carrying a greater volume of mail than was going by steamer and across the Isthmus of Panama, according to Carl H. Scheele (A Short History of the Mail Service, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1970).

The Butterfield Overland Mail was, in its day, the world's longest mail route, with a total length of about 2,800 miles.

To be Continued

- Kenneth A. Wood
This is Philately - Volume One A-F
Van Dahl Publications 1982
Posted November 20, 2000

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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