In terms of hours labor it took to pay for a stamp, what was the cost to send a half-ounce letter cross-country on the Pony Express? Would you believe about half the cost to send yourself across the country now?

While touring the Wells Fargo Museum in San Diego, I enjoyed their description of the Pony Express. Of course I had to convert the cost of mailing a letter to now.

According to the museum, the Pony Express ran from April 1860 to October 1861. From April 1861 until October, Wells Fargo ran the Pony route west of Salt Lake City. However, they set the rates and printed stamps for the entire cross-country run.

Wells Fargo reduced the rate to $2 per ½ ounce and then cut the rate further to $1 per ½ ounce.

In terms of average pay of the time, that is equal to about half a ticket to fly from Missouri to San Francisco today.

Let me explain.

Using data I mentioned in an earlier post, converting the 1860 average hourly wage for skilled workers to weekly rate based on a 60 hour workweek, gives weekly wages of $10.68 for a blacksmith, $10.92 for a carpenter, and $9.48 for a machinist. That is an average of $10.36

So a $2 stamp would be just over 19% of an average skilled workers weekly wages in 1860. The rate cut to $1 would be just under 10% of average weekly wages.

Bringing that forward, I will use the average weekly construction wages for today of $935.22, which I mentioned here.

The $2 stamp at 19 3% of weekly wages would be equal to $180.54 today.  After the rate cut? That would be $90.27 today.

I also mentioned in my earlier post that the airfare from St. Louis to San Francisco is around $398.

So, for same percentage of a week’s wages for an average skilled worker in April 1861 to send a ½ ounce envelope from St. Louis to the west coast, an average construction worker in 2012 could pay for 45% of a ticket to fly the same distance. In October 1861 after the reduction to a $1 stamp for ½ ounce, and average construction worker today could pay for 23% of a ticket.

Way cool. Half an ounce of mail or half an airplane ticket.

I was going to compare the 10 day transit time for the pony express to 5 seconds to send an e-mail, but the airfare comparison is a whole lot more fun.

There is no better time to be alive than today.

P.S. Here is my math:

$2/.5 oz  $1/.5 oz
           2.00           1.00  rate per half ounce
         10.36         10.36  average week’s pay for   skilled worker



 % of week’s pay
      935.22      935.22  construction ave weekly wage in 2012
      180.54         90.27  cost in 2012 dollars
      398.00      398.00  airfare



 percent of week’s pay


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