With all of the commotion on the streets of New York City, many don’t give couriers a second thought, especially about how today’s bike messengers and courier services came to be. We feel that the industry must have been formed out of a modern need to get parcels from one spot to another quickly. But the need to transport packages in a timely manner isn’t just a necessity in today’s fast-paced progressive culture. The same need has been part of the country’s rich history since the days of the gold rush.
In 1848, when gold was found in California, there were no towns, no roads and no civilization out west. But news of the west coast’s promising gold country spread fast and in less than two years, numerous men and women travelled across the country for their chance to strike it rich. The state’s population may have grown by over 80,000 people chasing their dream, but little was available to them to accommodate commerce-related needs that they were accustomed to back east. Settlers often relied on getting their goods from one place to another on foot or via stagecoach, while miners formed teams of mules to haul goods and supplies to the mines. The mule pack trains were successful in delivering the necessities but often took up to two weeks to deliver goods.
Soon companies who would address the need for local delivery emerged. First, they offered daily express service between San Francisco and Sacramento, quickly branching out to the rest of the state. In a very short span, there were almost 100 companies offering the same services throughout the various regions of California. The companies were hired to deliver letters, packages and even gold to the banks.
Although there were companies formed prior, in 1852 Wells Fargo was founded and provided both banking and express delivery services, and quickly became the leading gold and package transportation company in the west. Shortly after, the Pony Express was founded in order to move packages even faster than traditional stagecoaches and Wells Fargo jumped on board. The transcontinental rail line was eventually completed, speeding up the shipping process exponentially, and in 1913 parcel post service became available. This led to the post office’s monopoly on deliveries, leaving Wells Fargo to call it quits and concentrate on its banking enterprise. The bicycle boom in the 1890’s prompted the hiring of bicycle telegraph boys in both San Francisco and New York City, while motor freight services became the preferred method of long distance transport throughout the country with the introduction of gas and diesel driven trucks.
All this history eventually leads to the industry that we know today. Although stagecoaches and the Pony Express are long gone, the courier and messenger business has thrived to become a $59 billion industry in the US. Nowadays, there are many public and private, large and small courier companies, and an array of services from which to choose. Bicycle messengers are most often used in major cities by almost every industry. Courier companies often rely on bicycle travel because it is less subject to traffic with fewer parking limitations and it can offer more predictable arrival times than motorized transport.
In today’s culture, online communication has superseded some of the demand for local courier services, but numerous industries in NYC as well as in cities across the country still need to get their hard goods across town quickly. Doing business in the city will always require on-the-spot delivery and bikes will always be the fastest and cheapest way to get the job done right.