On January 1, 1913 the United States government began parcel post service throughout the country, based on a zone system which would determine how much postage would be charged for a particular package. Eleven pounds was the weight limit for a single package and basically anything that did not injure other mail could be sent.
On January 1, scores of newspapers across the country devoted copious amounts of columnar space to explain the new-fangled government enterprise known as “parcel post” (many newspapers, however, incorrectly referred to it as “parcels post”). The new service wasn’t just successful, it was wildly popular. Almost two million packages were sent from the fifty leading U.S. cities during the first week of operations.
Here are some samples of packages sent during the first couple of weeks:
- From the Harrisburg Telegraph: “Parcel Post Proves Popular First Day; First Package Out Contains Dozen Eggs”
- Lebanon Daily News (10 Jan 1913): “Body Goes to Grave by Mail” (human ashes mailed by parcel post from St. Louis for burial in Edwardsville, Illinois)
- Fort Wayne Sentinel (11 Jan 1913): A mother in St. Paul, Indiana sent lunch to her son who worked in Indianapolis.
- On January 15, a package containing skunk hides caused an evacuation of the post office in Decatur, Illinois. The package was returned to the sender.
- The phrase “parcel post” was apparently so popular that when a volleyball league was formed at the local YMCA in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, one of the team names was the “Parcel Posts”.
The new parcel post system was making headlines around the world. On January 16, the Vancouver Daily Record reported that the Canadians had been observing and were considering their own system. By February England and France had instituted their own parcel post services. The U.S. government was hiring both men and women for parcel post jobs, paying $20 per week.
About two weeks after the new service began, requests began to be transmitted to both local postmasters and Postmaster General Hitchcock. In Pennsylvania, a butcher favored the weight limits being extended to a whopping six hundred pounds! It seems he had butchered three pigs – one weighed 560, one 414 and another 352 — and wanted to mail them.
The Washington Post first reported on January 17:
Fort, McPherson, Ga.
Postmaster General, Washington, D.C.
Sir: I have been corresponding with a party in Pa., about getting a baby to rais (our home being without one). 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 company are to rough in handling.
Postmaster General Hitchcock was reported to be “stumped” by the inquiry and was seriously considering calling on experts in the “transportation of babies” to give their learned opinions. This was followed on January 22 by a woman requesting rates for mailing herself from Elgin, Illinois to Washington, D.C.
On January 30 it was reported that a New York City parcel post carrier was accused of eating the contents (a cake) of one of his packages. The Flushing resident was not amused by the local postmaster’s suggestion that perhaps the carrier hadn’t eaten the cake, but rather the package had been crushed into crumbs. The woman, most likely a suffragette, snorted: “Go on; protect him. Men are all the same. I’ll tell you, sir, that things will be different when women get their rights and when women run the country.”
Obviously, the limits of the system were being tested, for on January 31 it was reported that in Batavia, Ohio:
. . . a baby was sent by parcel post. The baby, a boy, weighed 10 3/4 pounds. Mr. Lytle, the carrier, delivered the “parcel” safely to the address on the card attached, that of its grandmother, Mrs. Louis Beagle, who lives about a mile from its home. The postage was 15 cents and the “parcel” was insured for $50.
In February another baby was mailed from Stratford, Oklahoma to Wellington, Kansas. Mrs. E.H. Staley, taken by surprise, “gasped and collapsed.”
A year later the limits were stretched even further with the mailing of a 48-1/2 pound “package” – a four-year old girl named May Pierstorff was sent from Grangeville to Lewiston, Idaho (by this time the weight limit had increased to fifty). Her parents, reluctant to pay train fare so May could visit her grandparents, had her “mailed” with 53 cents in postage attached to her coat. She traveled in the train’s mail compartment with the other packages and was delivered to grandma by the local postman.
Children are not “harmless animals” and because of their potentiality for danger they may not be mailed as parcel post. This decision was reached yesterday by the Postoffice Department in reply to a request for an official ruling from the Washington city postoffice.
But if you want to ship your goldfish or soft shell crabs or any similar little pet that requires no feeding while en route and cannot attack or injure the mail cars or clerks, why go ahead.
“By no stretch of imagination or language,” says the ruling, “can children be classified as harmless, live animals that do not require food or water.”
The publicity which attended the request for a ruling after two applications had been made in a week brought another mother to the postoffice yesterday who wished to send her three-year-old child for a visit to the country with a postage stamp ticket.
The Post Office had officially drawn the line and would no longer allow the mailing of babies and children. Interestingly, though, I ran across a 2012 story in the China Daily Times:
Migrant workers who can not take time off work to accompany their children back to their hometowns during the children’s summer vacation, have been using a service known as “mailing children” home, the Workers Daily reported on Aug 16.
Instead of a child’s half price bus fare, to mail a child home the ticket equals the price of an adult fare. Senders must complete an application form with the child receivers’ names and telephone numbers. Drivers of the depot will accompany the “mailed” children, that must be between the height of 1.2m to 1.5m, they will be assisted by a minder for the whole duration of the journey, until they reach the destination of the receiver.
More than 10 children aged around the age of 8 have been sent back to their hometowns in this way, according to a person in charge at the Fujia Po bus terminal.
Airline and train systems have also provided this “mailing children” service since 2011.
Leave it to the Chinese to come up with such a wacky idea . . . go figure. Oh, and by the way, the pictures at the top of the article were actual photographs, albeit taken “tongue-in-cheek” — the one on the left is part of the Smithsonian’s collection.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.