Pictures to Go: Express It!

Omaha Merchants Express and Transfer Co., Omaha, Nebraska. Copyrighted by F.J. Bandholtz, 1908.

Omaha Merchants Express and Transfer Co., Omaha, Nebraska. Copyrighted by F.J. Bandholtz, 1908. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ds.03065

When Barbara Natanson, fellow blogger and head of the reference section here in Prints & Photographs, shared with me the 1910 Lewis Hine photograph [below, left] of the boy assisting with deliveries in St. Louis, it brought home once again how enormously the world has changed in just over a century. In a similar fashion, the 1908 panoramic view of the horse and mule-drawn “fleet” of the Omaha Merchants Express and Transfer Company [above] sparked thoughts of how rapidly the connotation of “express” delivery has accelerated.

Some sixty years prior to Hine’s delivery boy and the Omaha Merchants Express, Henry Wells and William Fargo opened Wells, Fargo & Co. in the booming port town of San Francisco in 1852. The company combined two services to meet the needs of the miner 49ers who struck it rich in the years following the California Gold Rush: banking and express delivery. Within two decades, Wells Fargo had subsumed two transport icons of the American West: the Pony Express and the overland stagecoach.

One of the many young boys working as assistants on express wagons. May 13, 1910. 11 A.M. Adams Express Co. Location: St. Louis, Missouri. Photograph by Lewis Hine, May 13, 1910.

One of the many young boys working as assistants on express wagons. May 13, 1910. 11 A.M. Adams Express Co. Location: St. Louis, Missouri. Photograph by Lewis Hine, May 13, 1910. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/nclc.03513

I'll carry mine. Junior's express wagon comes of age and assumes new importance in wartime America's shopping expeditions. To conserve transportation facilities and thus save rubber and gasoline, shippers must devise their own methods of getting their purchases home. This one is among the best!

Junior’s express wagon comes of age and assumes new importance in wartime America’s shopping expeditions. Photograph by Ann Rosener, November 1942. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b07739

In the 19th century, the iron horse roamed over expansive railroad networks. Trains, combined with telecommunications breakthroughs in the form of Morse’s telegraph and Bell’s telephone, served to speed up the conveyance of things, people, and words. Yet, both the Hine photo and the Omaha panoramic serve to remind us today in this time of overnight delivery and near instantaneous transmission of information over the Internet, how much faster “express” has become for us. And, perhaps nothing outpaces the pace of change itself?

Learn More:

Mural "Pony Express," by Frank Albert Mechau, Jr., at the Ariel Rios Federal Building, Washington, D.C. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, September 2011

Mural “Pony Express,” by Frank Albert Mechau, Jr., at the Ariel Rios Federal Building, Washington, D.C. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, September 2011. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.24951

One Comment

  1. Syzygy Kid
    January 12, 2015 at 4:39 am

    Thanks for these great pictures and article!

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