Challenge and Change

October 4, 2012

Early one morning in April 1860, a rider carrying a precious cargo of mail spurred his horse and galloped out of the stables at St. Joseph, Missouri. He would ride for about 100 miles, changing horses every 10 miles, before relinquishing the mail sack to the next rider. That ride began the famous Pony Express, which carried mail from Missouri to Sacramento, California. To create the Pony Express, the business owners hired station masters and riders, purchased and distributed supplies, and built stations with stables across 1,900 miles of the daunting landscape of the American West. The Pony Express was an instant success, reducing delivery time for letters from 22 to 10 days. Yet just nineteen months later, in October 1861, the company was bankrupt, replaced by the transcontinental telegraph. The Pony Express, a colorful and famous service that is well known even now, 150 years later, became the victim of technological change. Today, we would describe what happened to the Pony Express the result of disruptive innovation, a term popularized by Clayton Christensen, who has studied industries transformed by technology.


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