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Messengers and Couriers in History

Posted on Thursday, August 20th by

Similarly to “occurrence”, “current” or “currency”, the word “courier” has its origins in the Latin word for “to run”, “currere”. According to Wikipedia, courier services differentiate themselves from ordinary mail services through the fast, secure, trackable, individualised express services they provide.

Back in the beginning, deliveries were made on foot, more specifically by running. Later on, runners were gradually replaced by homing pigeons, stage coaches, horse riders and pony riders, among others.

The Greeks worshipped a Messenger God in the person of Hermes, son of Zeus (known to the Romans as Mercury), who had wings attached to his feet. According to the stories, Zeus would send his son to accompany the mortals in their dreams or travels and protect them. It is also the Greeks where the motto of the US postal service comes from, a motto which was first spoken by Herodotus.

However, the most popular legend related to messengers and couriers of old is that of Pheidippides, a Greek soldier who, back in 490 BC, delivered the message of the Greeks’ victory over the Persians at Marathon after running all the way to Athens. The legend goes that he ran 42 km to Athens, delivered the message and died of exhaustion right afterwards. This is the origin of the Olympic Marathon’s running distance of approximately 42 km.

A similar event occurred in the 18th century, when Revolutionary War messenger and scout Ann Hennis Trotter Bailey (aka Mad Ann) ran approximately 161 km from Fort Clendenin to Fort Savannah and back to renew the gunpowder supply.

Paul Revere also carved his name in history after running the so-called “Midnight Ride” back in 1775 to inform the colonists in Concord and Lexington about the arrival of the British Militia.

Back in 1834, reinforcements were called to defend the Alamo against General Santa Anna’s attacks by couriers sent out by Commander Travis.

In the US, the modern courier age starts at the foundation of Wells Fargo in 1852. They were the first to provide premium package delivery services, delivering gold and setting up offices to coordinate the trading activity within the new US territories. Later on, in 1860, the Pony Express was founded to deliver between Saint Joseph and Sacramento. They used riders to deliver mail and packages over distances longer than 3,200 km within approximately ten days, relay stations being set up within 25-30 km. The service was shut down upon the introduction of the telegraph.

During World War I, the soldiers in the 2nd Cavalry Regiment served as scouts and couriers, managing to reach 8 km behind the German lines. Later on, during World War II, the heavily decorated Nancy Wake (aka The White Mouse) reached the top of the list of the Gestapo’s most wanted spies after providing courier services to the French resistance.

Today, the visible US delivery network is supported by an invisible one consisting of hundreds of thousands of self-employed couriers who make millions of same day deliveries on a daily basis. Dependable, efficient, professional and dedicated, these couriers have proven to be essential caterers for the needs of governments, businesses and individuals on countless occasions over time.

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