The Pony Express
Social Studies/Math Activity
Your students may be intrigued by the story of the Pony
Express. In this activity, students plot the route of the Pony
Express, discover the kinds of terrain it crossed and calculate
the number of legs needed to cover the distance of its total
WHAT YOU NEED
- The Pony Express (print and copy)
- Blank outline maps of the United States (optional)
- Atlases (optional)
WHAT TO DO
- Distribute copies of The Pony Express and ask a volunteer
to read it aloud. This should provide enough background on this
unique system of communication for students to do the following
math problems. However, some students may wish to look in
additional sources for more information.
- Challenge students to calculate the following problems:
- How much faster did the news of President Lincoln's
inaugural address reach California than the regularly scheduled
8-day Pony Express run? (8 days minus 7 days 17 hours = 7
hours faster, or more than 1/4 of a 24 hour day was cut off the
usual prairie to the coast time)
- How many legs of the journey did it take to cover the whole
route from Missouri to California? Suggest that students look
for two numerical facts in The Pony Express. (1. The total mileage that the Pony Express stretched was over 2,000 miles; 2. The average miles a rider covered on one leg of the Pony Express was 10 to 15 miles).
- How much did the cost of a 1/2 ounce letter drop after the
Pony Express became established? (It cost $5 for 1/2 an ounce
at first. This dropped to $1 for 1/2 an ounce. The price dropped
by 4/5 ths or by 80%.)
- Have students share their calculations and answers with the class.
- Give each student a blank outline of the United States
entitled The Pony Express,1860-1861. Have them use atlases
to find the Pony Express route that ran between St. Joseph,
Missouri and Sacramento, California. Encourage students to
label other information on their maps, such as the Pacific
Ocean, the Mississippi River, the Rocky Mountains, their home
- Challenge students to draw a chart that compares the time it
would take for a message to travel from St. Joseph, Missouri
to Sacramento, California by the these methods: wagon train,
Pony Express, Union Pacific transcontinental railroad,
telegraph, Amtrak train, commercial jet, telephone, e-mail.
Discuss how these times affected and affect lifestyles of
ordinary people then and now.
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