Couriers and Messengers – A Historical Perspective

Couriers in History

The word courier is derived from the Latin word, currere, which means to run.  Other words derived from currere include occurrence, currency, and current.

The Wikipedia definition for courier states that couriers are different from ordinary mail services by offering speed, tracking, security, and individualization of express services.

Before the automobile, expedited delivery included multiple types of methods to deliver goods and messages quickly including runners, homing pigeons, horse and pony riders, stage coaches etc. The history of couriers goes back thousands of years to the days when the only method of speedy delivery was by running.

In Greek mythology, Hermes, the son of Zeus, was called the Messenger God (in Roman Mythology known as Mercury). In ancient mythology Hermes/Mercury has wings on his feet. In stories, Hermes is often sent by his father, Zeus, to deliver dreams or to travel with mortals to keep them safe.

The origin of the U.S. postal service’s motto, traces back to Herodotus, a Greek Historian born in 484 BC, who is quoted as saying “Not snow, no, nor rain, nor heat, nor night keeps them from accomplishing their appointed courses with all speed”.

One of the most famous messengers in history is told in the legend of the Greek messenger who in 490 BC ran from Marathon to Athens after a major battle where the Greeks defeated the invading Persians. Legend claims he fought in the Battle of Marathon and then ran about 26 miles to notify the people of Athens of their victory; he then collapsed and died of exhaustion. The Olympic Marathon, which is approximately 26 miles, originated from this legendary 26 mile run.

Ann Hennis Trotter Bailey, also known as “Mad Ann” (1742 – 1825), worked as a scout and messenger during the Revolutionary War.  Bailey is famous for her 100 mile ride from Fort Clendenin to Fort Savannah to bring back much needed gun powder.

Paul Revere is best known as the messenger who rode through the night in 1775, the famous “Midnight Ride”, to warn the colonists in Lexington and Concord that the British Militia was coming.

In 1834, Commander Travis, while trying to defend the Alamo against the army of Mexican General Santa Anna, sent out couriers to local communities to get reinforcements.

Wells Fargo was started in 1852 and became the first premium package delivery service in the U.S. It specialized in moving gold and packages and established a huge network of Wells Fargo offices throughout the U.S. which were particularly important for organizing commerce in newly established territories and states.

The Pony Express was established in 1860 to provide express courier service between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California. The Pony Express set up relays of riders who would cover the 2,000 plus miles with mail and small packages in about 10 days.  A rider would switch horses at relay stations every 15 to 20 miles, traveling 75 to 100 miles per day. The Pony Express operated in parts of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. It stopped in 1861 when the introduction of the telegraph made it possible to relay critical messages electronically.

During World War I, the Second Cavalry Regiment, 400 men with mounts, served as couriers and scouts in the combined American-French effort against the Germans. On September 11, 1918, the regiment rode through the night and managed to get five miles behind German lines.

During World War II, Nancy Wake, known as the White Mouse, was the most decorated service woman in the Allied forces and became the Gestapo’s most wanted spy.  She was a journalist and served as a courier for the French Resistance.

In the United State there are hundreds of thousands of independent couriers which together represent a delivery network which for the most part is largely invisible to the general public as they deliver in their own unbranded cars, vans and trucks. These couriers handle millions of special handling and same day deliveries every day, from medical lab or bank check route pickups to last minute parts deliveries to solve manufacturing emergencies and delivery of medicine or transplant organs to waiting patients.

Dependability, problem solving, professionalism and dedication are the qualities which professional couriers have in common. Today, and throughout history, independent professional couriers are indispensable to help solve critical needs for individuals, businesses, and governments.

Courier Service Network
Courier Service Network