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.
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?
- Rush to view images related to the Pony Express and pictures of express wagons as well in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
- Stake your claim to Carol M. Highsmith’s color photographs of gold rush-related scenes in California.
- Hurry on over to the HAER (Historic American Engineering Record) photographic documentation of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, New York City’s famous subway system.