The Things That Were Mailed

OK. I'm going to admit something. When my kids were young and acted up, I threatened to "mail them to their grandmother." I would get a stamp out of the drawer, lick it and stick it on their forehead. From their continuing antics, it was clear they didn't believe me. But now I find out that it wasn't an outlandish idea at all.  But first a little background:

Parcel post became available to Americans at the start of 1913 as a way to encourage economic delivery in rural America. Farm families - most of whom were poor - were excited about the new service because it meant they would be able to ship and receive eggs, live chicks, seeds, tobacco and food inexpensively and reliably.

Parcel post literally became an overnight success. Even urban dwellers took to ordering through the mail,  giving rise to such iconic mail-order companies as Montgomery Wards and Sears. Suddenly, everyone was shipping something.

May Pierstroff was mailed
via Parcel Post in 1914.
In the book "Reaching Rural America - The Evolution of Rural Free Delivery," authors James and Donald Bruns describe some unusual parcels handled by the Post Office:

"May Pierstroff was a 'package' that was sent via parcel post. The four-year-old blond was mailed from Grangeville, ID, to her grandparents (across the state) in Lewiston on Feb. 19, 1914. The total charge, calculated on the basis of mailing chickens, was 53 cents. This fee reflected her weight - 48 1/2 pounds, which was just 1 1/2 pounds shy of the 50-pound chicken limit."

According to the authors, May was mailed because the postage was cheaper than train fare. The mailman on duty at the time delivered May safely to her grandparents' front door.

Of course, postal employees demanded the public not mail children, but the practice continued. That same year, postal workers in Stillwell, IN accepted a parcel post box marked "live infant." They delivered the box to South Bend, IN, where the baby's divorced father received and opened it. Postage on the box was 17 cents.

The next year, a state worker mailed six-year-old Edna Neff from Pensacola, FL to Christiansburg, VA. The girl's parents were separated and the mother on hard times. A Pensacola probation officer had temporary custody of Edna, but couldn't afford the train fare for her and an accompanying adult. So she mailed Edna to the girl's father for 15 cents.

The USPS finally announced on June 13, 1920, that it would no longer accept children as parcel post. Still, in 1922, possibly as testament to the continuing hard times for many in America, a C.O.D. (cash on delivery) package was sent to an undertaker in Albany, NY. Inside was the body of a baby who had died of natural causes. The unknown and undoubtedly desperate parents had sent her in the hope she would get a decent burial. She did, thanks to "the kindness of strangers". Her headstone reads "Parcella Post."

A light-hearted photo of a mailman and baby was taken when the USPS announced it would no longer accept children as Parcel Post.

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