Society & Culture

History’s Most Famous Couriers

Sometime between six and seven million years ago a species known as Sahelanthropus tchadensis stood and walked on two legs in Western Africa. This monkey-looking animal's first small steps set off an evolutionary chain reaction that led to the birth of Homo sapiens, otherwise recognised as today's Mr & Mrs Smith.

Just as our bodies have evolved, so too have our minds and with that has come vast changes in the way that we communicate with one another. Where once we managed to express our feelings, our concerns and our thoughts by drawing lines in the sand and setting a fire, we now can create and download enormous amounts of information in seconds all over the world.

According to Guinness World Records we can send 33.5 megabits of information per second to be exact, through the world's fastest broadband service in South Korea. Now that is some advancement! Still, we must not forget the mediums of communication that have helped us evolve to this stage, and the people that helped us get there faster.

"Then he collapsed and died."

Long before men could communicate remotely over long distances there were runners. There are accounts of men from all over the world who would quite literally run the width of a country if they had to in order to deliver a message. The history of Sparta may only be brought to the masses nowadays through a Gerard Butler movie about 300 men against an army but there is much more to the legend.

When the Persians landed at Marathon in Greece a man was sent to Sparta with a message to beg for help from their notorious warriors. Pheidippides ran 150 miles in two days to ask for help and once the conflict was done he had to run another 25 miles from the battlefield in Marathon to the city of Athens. It was there that he declared his last message; victory was theirs! Then he collapsed and died. His actions and his life are the derivation of our modern word for long distance running, marathon.

"For heaven’s sake, stop it."

Again in Greece, in 776 BC, messages were sent to Athens. This time, however, they announced the winner of the Olympic Games and the message was delivered by a homing pigeon. Famously, homing pigeons were relied heavily upon in World War I when telegraphs and phone calls were likely to be intercepted. The most renowned pigeon of the war for the Americans was called Cher Ami, meaning Dear Friend.

On October 4th, 1918, Major Whittlesey of the 77th Infantry Division became trapped with 500 men. By the second day the Germans had cut that number to just 200 men. The American Artillery had begun firing into the depression where the Germans surrounded Major Whittlesey and his troops to defend them but without accurate co-ordinates they were actually dropping shells right on top of their own soldiers!

Whittlesey had but one pigeon, Cher Ami, who delivered his last message successfully despite enemy fire and saved the entire trapped company. On landing he was found to have lost one eye, a bullet hole was through his breastbone and a nearly severed leg hung from him from which clung Whittlesey's message to cease fire: "We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it."

Sent to America and dying a year after the event, Cher Ami was preserved by a taxidermist and is now on display at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC where visitors can learn of his brave feat and see the Croix de Guerre that was given by the French to mark the little bird's incredible story.

"There are postmen all over the place."

Written messages far preceded man's ability to train animals to deliver them, however. The first alphabet was developed by the Phoenicians around 3500 BC but the first postal service was created in China in 900 BC, for Government use only. In fact it wasn't until 1775 that the first postman, Abdurahman Ebu, took office. Today every country in the world has its own postal service of which Britain's Royal Mail may well be the most renowned with a history that spans 500 years (although it wasn't referred to as that just yet).

Nowadays there are postmen all over the place! They may well meet us most mornings as we leave the house for work but there is even one, a man who is inarguably one of the world's most famous couriers, who not only stole his way into our homes but also into our hearts: Postman Pat.

Broadcast in stop motion for the first time in 1981, Postman Pat and his black and white cat have become symbols of Britain across the world. Indeed they even joined forces with the UK's Royal Mail and proudly displayed the company's trademark red van and yellow letters until 2000. Having several reinventions and modernisations Postman Pat was eventually declared not to be in keeping with the British postal service's corporate image and was disassociated from the brand! Now, Pat Clifton is an employee of the fictional Special Delivery Service where he continues to excel in entertaining children of all ages.

"Oh wait just a minute, Mr Postman…"

Children's television is not the only medium that couriers have managed to enter into and become favourites with the general public. Even in the early 1960s, when Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors were making their debuts in Rock'n'Roll another group entirely was a firm favourite on the jukebox. Motown has always had a way of getting into your bones and making you want to put on your dancing shoes, and that's exactly what The Marvelettes did with Please Mr Postman in 1961. The enduring popularity of this track cannot be denied, even in spite of The Supremes eclipsing the band, who had a bitter rivalry in the charts.

Just as The Marvelettes sang for their postman to bring news from their long lost love, couriers and messengers have been looked to for guidance throughout history and time. The most famous of which is Cupid who delivered the most important message of all to many lovers. Cupid, or Eros as he was known in Rome, would shoot his golden arrow and make a couple fall in love. Even to this date Cupid is associated with love and especially with Valentine's Day.

If you are planning on sending a Valentine this year then there are more effective ways to do so than requesting the help of a Roman god or a chubby cherub! Why not simply find out what couriers are operating cheap delivery services near you? After all, the Royal Mail is sometimes notorious for its delays but by using an independent man with a van or by searching for a company near you, you can beat the rush and make sure that your Valentine receives their gift on time this year. Evolve your thinking, as you have discovered that our ancestors already evolved, to beat the Valentine's Day rush by searching for qualified but affordable couriers online. You can find a great range of couriers at Check it out today!

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