Did people really mail infants across the country via Parcel Post? The idea is both amusing and somewhat disturbing at the same time. It brings to mind images of babies snugly tucked inside mail bags with stamps glued to their foreheads. What really happened?
It is entirely possible that one of your ancestors was sent by Parcel Post. People really did send infants and small children that way. However, it didn’t work quite the way one might assume it did. There is more to this story!
Parcel Post was not something that the Post Office Department originally offered. People were limited to mailing items that were four pounds (or less) in weight. The average letter would fit within these limitations.
People who wanted to mail a heavy quilt (for example) couldn’t do it through the Post Office. Instead, they had to go through a private express company. There were many of them, and their rates were not standardized. In 1896, in response to people’s pleas to enable the Postal Service to let them mail things that were heavier than four pounds, a change was made. The Post Office now allowed Parcel Post.
This opened up possibilities that had not existed before. There were still some limitations, though. People were prohibited from mailing items that were considered “unmailable”. Some of those items included: intoxicants, poisons, poisonous animals, insects, reptiles, inflammable materials, pistols, revolvers, live (or dead) animals, live bird or poultry, raw hides, or “any article with a bad odor.”
As you can see, infants and children were not on that list. A few people realized that it was less expensive to send the baby by Parcel Post than to pay for a train ticket. (Mail was sent via train). They paid for the correct amount of stamps and trusted the mail carrier with their son or daughter.
The first baby to have been sent Parcel Post was sent a few weeks after the service became available. Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Beauge of Glen Este, Ohio, mailed their infant son to his grandparents in Vernon, Ohio. The two towns were about a mile away from each other. The parents paid for a 15 cent stamp and ensured their son for $50.00.
Just a few days later, a little girl named May Pierstorff was “mailed”. Her parents sent her via Parcel Post from Pine Hollow, Pennsylvania, to relatives that lived in Clay Hollow, Pennsylvania. A rural mail carrier named James Byerly delivered her.
It cost 45 cents to mail May, and she was just under the 50 pound weight limit. The stamps were affixed to May’s clothing. There is a children’s book called Mailing May that was based on this situation (that took place in 1914). The book is written by Michael O. Tunnell and illustrated by Ted Rand. A few more children were sent by Parcel Post before the Post Office officially forbid it.
Image by Marcin Wichary on Flickr.
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