3 April 1449

In the earliest known example of a manufacturing patent, Henry VI grants Letters Patent to John of Utynam, giving him a 20-year monopoly on a method of making glass, required for windows at Eton and King's colleges at Cambridge.


3 April 1811

The British defeated the French at Sabugal in Portugal. An even more decisive victory was prevented by a combination of bad weather and the blunders of the short-sighted and mentally unstable General Sir William Erskine.

3 April 1860: Pony Express hits the road

The first rider for America’s legendary mail service departs

For the people of St Joseph, Missouri, the evening of 3 April 1860 was one to remember. For months, a consortium of local businessmen had been working on plans for the United States’ first high-speed mail service, with a network of riders to carry post from the Midwest to the booming new state of California, on the Pacific coast. They called it the Pony Express. And from the moment the first rider departed that evening, to the blast of a cannon and cheers from the watching crowds, it became part of American legend.

The origins of the Pony Express were a fascinating lesson in technology, migration and commercial opportunism. The key figure was a stagecoach boss called William Hepburn Russell, who realised that individual riders could carry letters westward much faster than his coaches could. He and his partners arranged to buy more than 400 ponies and to build relay stations across the plains from Missouri to California.

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Then they advertised for riders. “Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over 18,” read one advert. “Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”

Successful applicants, supposedly including the future ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody, had to swear an oath not to drink, “use profane language” or fight with any other employee. Their task was arduous: each had to cover 75–100 miles a day, with 1,900 miles separating St Joseph from Sacramento, California. Alas, despite its mythical reputation, the Pony Express actually lost money and was closed down in October 1861, having been superseded by the telegraph. Yet the romance of the great transcontinental adventure ensured it a prominent role in the legends of the Old West. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

3 April 1882: Jesse James is gunned down

America’s most famous outlaw is betrayed by a fellow gang member

By the spring of 1882, Jesse James’s career was in deep decline. Perhaps the most famous outlaw in American history, a former Confederate veteran who had slid into a life of paramilitary violence, bank raids and train robberies, James was now 34 years old. His famous gang had largely broken up, while Missouri’s new governor, Thomas Theodore Crittenden, had persuaded the railroad companies to fund a $5,000 bounty for his capture. It was no wonder that to his friends, James seemed nervous, suspicious, even paranoid.

The beginning of April found James in St Joseph, Missouri, living under the name of Mr Howard, with his wife, Zerelda, and two brothers, Charley and Robert Ford. Unbeknown to James, the Ford brothers had their eyes on the reward, and had already decided to betray him. The moment came just after breakfast on 3 April.

James had just finished reading the newspaper, which reported the confession of one of his old friends, and was in an especially suspicious mood. Robert Ford became convinced that he knew something was up, but at that point James removed his coat, laid down his pistols and went to dust a picture. Now was Ford’s chance. He drew his own gun and fired, hitting James in the back of the head. Hearing the sound, Zerelda ran in. “You’ve killed him!” she screamed.

Both Ford brothers surrendered to the authorities later that day, were charged with murder and sentenced to death. But they were never punished. By nightfall the governor had already issued them with a full pardon – proof, many thought, that Crittenden had been in on the plot all along. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

3 April 1897

German composer Johannes Brahms dies in Vienna, aged 63.

3 April 1933

Piloted by the Marquis of Clydesdale and David MacIntyre, two British biplanes made the first aeroplane flight over Mount Everest.

3 April 1948

US President Harry Truman signs the Economic Recovery Act of 1948. It is better known as the Marshall Plan, after secretary of state George Marshall who had proposed that the USA provide economic assistance to rebuild the economies of postwar Europe.


3 April 1950

German-born composer Kurt Weill died in New York, aged 50. He is perhaps best-known for composing the music for Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera.

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