THE ADVANCE in speedy communication across the Plains came like a whirlwind. On September 15, 1858, the Butterfield stage line made possible the carrying of messages from the Missouri frontier to the Pacific Coast in twenty-five days. In 1860 the Pony Express cut the carrying time to nine days, but before this romantic courier system was well started, plans were laid for extending the telegraph across the vast space of plains and mountains.
On June 16, 1860, Congress passed an act "To facilitate communication between the Atlantic and Pacific States by electric telegraph." This act directed the Secretary of the Treasury to subsidize a telegraph line from the western border of Missouri to San Francisco, in an amount not exceeding $40,000 a year for a period of ten years. Bids were to be received, and the government was to award the contract to the lowest bidder.1 The act specified the completion of the line by July 31, 1862. It also stipulated that a ten-word message from Brownville, Nebraska, to San Francisco should not cost over three dollars and that government despatches should have precedence over all other messages. The Smithsonian Institution, Coast and Geodetic Survey, and Naval Observatory were to have free use of the line during the period of the subsidy.
Hiram Sibley of New York, inspirer and promoter of the act, secured the contract with its subsidy in the latter half of September, 1860. Sibley was president of the Western Union____________________