1958 4¢ Overland Mail
Issue Date: October 10, 1958
City: San Francisco, California
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Rotary Press
Perforations: 11 x 10 ½
Color: Crimson rose
U.S. #1120 is a centennial commemoration of the first overland mail route across the continental United States. The use of San Francisco as the location for the first day of issue suggests that the Postal Office Department recognized John Butterfield’s service in building the first overland mail route. But there is another contender for that title.
In July 1857, a mail train left San Antonio, Texas, on its way to San Diego, California. Pack animals carried the bags of mail, leading to the nickname, the “Jackass Express.” The service was owned by James E. Birch, who had been awarded a contract for a southern route on June 22, 1857. The first journey took 53 days – a new record. But Birch died while at sea before it arrived. His successor, I.C. Woods, continued the service before learning of Birch’s death. He reported the situation to the Post Office Department, and the contract was transferred to another service.
In September 16, 1857, the Post Office awarded a $600,000-per-year contract to John Butterfield to establish another overland route. After about a year of preparation and $1,000,000 invested, the first mail shipment began September 6, 1858. Butterfield had gathered over 2,000 mules and horses, 200 coaches, and 1,200 employees. The first shipment arrived in San Francisco on October 10, in 23 days, 23 hours – under the 25-day obligation his contract required. It had completed a journey of 2,800 miles.
The First Day of Issue city, and the day U.S. #1120 was issued, suggests which service the Post Office Department considered as the first overland route.