History of the Express Business by Alexander Lovett Stimson: a short review

A short biography of the author, since I wanted to read one but couldn’t track anything down: Stimson was born in the Boston area around 1820. In his youth he joined his brother, John K. Stimson, in the service of J. Edgar Thompson, who was building the Georgia Railroad. He resided in Georgia for some time, marrying his Boston sweetheart Mary Jerome and bringing her there. The author worked for American Express (and apparently Adams Express) in New York, and later worked for American Express in Chicago. At some point he was involved in a New Orleans-based express effort. His brothers John and Fred also spent their careers in express work. He edited a trade journal named The Express Messenger (not sure what dates), and wrote at least three novels (Poor Caroline, Easy Nat, & Waifwood) which seem to have had no impact on anyone (Easy Nat & Waifwood are available as Google Books scans). Alexander and Mary apparently retired to Monmouth, Illinois.

I’ve seen this book described as “indispensable.” It might well be that, but it’s odd. There is, indeed, a history of the express companies in here, which covers the territory in great detail, including long lists of key players and descriptions of the communities served by the agencies. Stimson was amazingly well-connected, and interested in everything about the trade. The narrative is constantly interrupted, though, by not-very-relevant asides, and he’s prone to inserting political opinions into factual discussions. Stimson’s also thoroughly convinced that the express agencies played a major role in the settlement of the American west–an opinion with some validity, to be sure, but not to the degree this author claims. The long lists he likes to compile often seem pointless. The author’s also prone to word play, to a degree that’s positively annoying. And the book ends with over a hundred pages of miscellaneous material.

All of these oddly-joined elements are potentially valuable to historians, but sorting through them can be painful. Interesting stuff, though.


This short review was originally published on LibraryThing.