The Eye that Never Sleeps: A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency

By Frank Morn | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2 Lessons of War: Regionalism to Nationalism

AMERICA'S EXPRESS SYSTEM underwent rapid growth in the 1850s that paralleled the growth of railroads. As railroad mileage increased, the express and fast-freight businesses went from local to national enterprises. Express cars on railroad trains became important features. One excited booster, an editor of the Express Messenger, credited the express business for annihilating the country's "magnificient distances." 1 William F. Harnden started America's first express company in 1839. Before that time, most packages were carried by stagecoach drivers, railroad conductors, friends of the sender, or sometimes perfect strangers going to the desired destination. Harnden, a conductor and ticket agent for the Boston and Worcester Railroad, noticed the large number of packages carried by passengers and offered to take parcels and newspapers in his valise to various train stations. At first his activities were confined to New England. In the early 1840s the European market opened, and Harnden specialized in overseas traffic in conjunction with the Cunard Steamship Lines. 2

A competing express line had been established in 1840 by Alvin Adams and P. B. Burke. For five years they, too, were restricted to New England, but obtained several customers when Harnden concentrated on the European market. The California gold rush also enriched the transporting opportunities of Adams, and he began assimilating many of the smaller Eastern lines. 3 Henry Wells left Harnden in 1850 and joined Livington, Fargo, and Butterfield to establish the American Express. Within a year their business ex-

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