Letter carriers pose for photographs with children in their mailbag. In 1913, the United States Postal Service instituted domestic parcel service. This meant that packages could now be sent across the country. A few families saw this as an opportunity to send some of their more ‘delicate’ items through the mail – their children.
With stamps on their clothing, a handful of children were “mailed” when the parcel service launched. There were not many children who were mailed. Those who were often traveled the railway and city carriers with trusted employees or relatives who worked for the post office. You are probably wondering why people would mail their children. Well, if a child came in under the 50 pound parcel weight limit (increased from the initial 11 pound limit), it was cheaper to mail them than to pay for travel fare by alternative methods.
New York Times, January 26, 1913
The first child believed to be ‘mailed’ was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Beague of Glen Este, Ohio. A little under 11 pounds, the baby was mailed from his parents and traveled with Vernon Lytle, a Rural Ree Delivery carrier, to his grandmother’s house a mile away. If you wonder how much it cost to mail a child the distance of a mile in mid January 1913, well it only cost his parents 15-cents (they did insure him for $50). Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Savis of Pine Hollow, Pennsylvania placed 45-cents worth of stamps on their daughter to travel to Clay Hollow to be with relatives. The parents placed their daughter’s care into the hands of rural carrier James Byerly.
In 1913, Postmaster General Frank Harris Hitchcock was asked about the requirements for mailing babies from a person in Fort McPherson, Georgia. “I have been corresponding with a party in PA about getting a baby to rais [sic] (Our home being without one)” starts the letter that was published in the New York Times on January 17, 1913. It continues, “May I ask you what specifications to use in wrapping so it (baby) would comply with regulations and be allowed shipment by parcel post as the express co. are to rough in handling.” Since babies, in Hitchcock’s opinions, do not fall under the category of “bees and bugs” – the only acceptable living thing that could be transported by parcel post – he stated that mailing children was not acceptable. However, it did not seem he was overly forceful on his opinion because mailing children was still done.
Young May Pierstorff, the most famous of the parcel post children packages. Photo Credit: Smithsonian
By all accounts, the rest of the year was relatively quiet on the “putting stamps on children and mailing them” front. The next year, it started back up. One of the most well-known story of children being mailed was that of May Pierstorff. Just three months shy of six-years-old and weighing in at 48 1/2 pounds, May’s parents decided that she should visit her grandparents but thought the train fare was too steep a price to pay. So, on February 19, 1914, May’s parents put 53-cents in stamps on her and sent May from Grangeville to Lewiston, Idaho – a distance of about 73 miles. She was taken to her grandmother’s house by Leonard Mochel, the mail clerk on duty.
Upon inquiries of mailing children, Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson was quick to rule that it was not allowed as his predecessor Hitchcock stated. This again fell one deaf ears. In 1915 – the year the Smithsonian National Postal Museum called “a banner year for mailing children – six-year-old Edna Neff was believed to have traveled the longest when she was mailed from her mother’s Pensacola, Florida home all the way to Christainburg, Virginia where her father lived. Traveling by railway mail train, the little over 720 miles trip cost a whooping 15-cents in stamps!
The Smithsonian National Postal Museum note there were other instances of children being mailed throughout the year. They also attest that Maud Smith, a three-year-old, seemed to be the last case of children being mailed. Maud’s story is the following: “That September, three-year-old Maud Smith made her parcel post journey when she traveled from her grandparents’ home to her mother’s, Mrs. Celina Smith of Jackson, Kentucky. A local newspaper noted that this particular trip was being investigated by the postal officials.” The National Postal Museum continues, “Superintendent John Clark of the Cincinnati division of the Railway Mail Service asked the Caney, Kentucky postmaster to explain who he allowed the child onto the train as parcel post in clear violation of postal rules. Perhaps it was the public notice of the investigation, but for whatever reason, it appears to have been the final case of ‘child mail.'” According to an article published in Springfield’s Republican on September 3, 1918, mailing children still occurred three years after Maud’s eventful trip.
Two Girls Sent By Parcel Post over New Motor Mail Truck Route; Postage $1.23
from the Springfield, Mo. Republican September 3, 1918, page 8.
“Josephine McCall, 7 years old, and Iris Carter, 8 years old, have been stamped, mailed and yes delivered by the parcel post from their home in Red Top to their aunt, Mrs. Bessie McCall, 1221 North Campbell Street, Springfield. They came all the way in one of the new motor trucks over one of the new routes and were driven by W. E. Fawcett who delivered them.
When the relatives of Josephine and Iris at Red Top were troubled as to how to get the children to Springfield without sending someone up with them they hit upon the idea of sending them by parcel post and by the way of the new motor route or “a la motor truck”. The regulations say that all goods must be stamped and weighed, registered, etc.
The children were weighed and the cost of sending them figured at the regular rates of sending things. Josephine, it was found could go for 52 cents but it took 70 cents to pay for the mailing and delivery of Iris.
A dollar and twenty-three cents was paid and the children were stamped like ordinary parcels. When the driver of the new motor truck, W. E. Fawcett , came steaming into Red Top he found the two children awaiting him along with other things he was to deliver to Springfield.
Mr. Fawcett believes that a kid or two at a time to deliver is all right but he is glad the idea does not occur to many parents at present when moving their children and he is dreading the time when he will find children all along the way and persons in parcels at every post office.”
In a New York Times article published on June 14, 1920, First Assistant Postmaster General Koons stated that “…children did not come within the classification of harmless live animals which do not require food or water while in transport.” Therefore, children could not be sent via parcel post. I can safely say that it was probably for the best that officials finally put their foot down. Otherwise, my mom’s threat of sending me to Timbuktu when I was younger (and much more troublesome) would have been far cheaper than she realized….
Note: It should be noted that the photographs at the top of mailmen with babies in their bag were staged photographs and not thought to be actual babies mailed through parcel post.
“Wants Baby Sent by Mail.” New York Times, Jan 17, 1913.
“Baby Boy by Parcel Post.” New York Times, Jan 26, 1913.
“Rules Children Cannot be Sent by Parcel Post as Live Animals.” New York Times, Jun 14, 1920.
Pope, Nancy. “Very Special Deliveries.” Smithsonian: National Postal Museum, February 17, 2013.
“Precious Packages – America’s Parcel Post Service,” Smithsonian National Postal Museum.
Springfield-Greene County Library District