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Parents used to send their kids through the mail in the early days of the parcel post

The US Postal Service allowed people to access all kinds of goods and services but had bizarre consequences as some parents started sending children through the mail.

Parents used to send their kids through the mail in the early days of the parcel post
Cover Image Source: Facebook / Smithsonian National Postal Museum

The 20th century has observed significant evolution in the Post Office ever since its first launch in 1913. The service opened American doors to exchange vast parcels and ship packages. During the 19th century, although private delivery companies existed, the Parcel Post expanded its reach to far-flung places. The new service allowed people to access all kinds of goods and services but had bizarre consequences as some parents started sending children through the mail, and there was no postal regulation against it. “It got some headlines when it happened, probably because it was so cute,” the United States Postal Service historian Jenny Lynch told Smithsonian Magazine



 

An Ohio couple named Jesse and Mathilda Beagle “mailed” their eight-month-old son, James Beagle, to his grandmother, who lived just a few miles away in Batavia. At that time, the Postal Service had a weight limit, and James weighed under 11 pounds, making him come under the weighing limit rules, and his “delivery” cost his parents only 15 cents in postage (although his parents insured him for $50). The story made the headlines, and James was honored as the first baby to have ever been mailed. Other parents soon followed suit, and similar stories about children being sent through rural routes would occasionally surface in the local newspapers.



 

On February 19, 1914, a four-year-old girl named Charlotte May Pierstorff was “mailed” via train from Grangeville, Idaho, to her grandparents’ house about 73 miles away. Her story was so sensational that it was adapted into a book called "Mailing May." Lynch said that May was accompanied by her mother’s cousin, who worked as a clerk for the railway mail service. His influence to look after his young cousin was believed to have convinced local officials to send May along with the mail. However, on June 14, 1913, several newspapers stated that the postmaster had “officially decreed that children could no longer be sent through the mail.”



 

In August 1915, three-year-old Maud Smith became the last child to be mailed, sent about 40 miles through Kentucky to see her sick mother. According to History, when this story made the news, Superintendent John Clark of the Cincinnati Railway Mail Service investigated why the postmaster in Caney, Kentucky, had allowed a child to be mailed after it was strictly prohibited.

“I don’t know if he lost his job, but he sure had some explaining to do,” said Nancy Pope, head curator of history at the National Postal Museum. Around 1916, mailing babies were banned altogether and in June 1920, General John C. Koons, the First Assistant Postmaster, rejected two applications to mail children, noting that they couldn’t be classified as “harmless live animals." 



 

“According to the regulations at that point, the only animals that were allowed in the mail were bees and bugs,” Lynch explained. “There’s an account of May Pierstorff being mailed under the chicken rate, but chicks weren’t allowed until 1918.” While the mail babies episode became more of an entertainment and publicity stunt, Lynch pointed out that it is an example of just how much rural people trusted local postal workers. “Mail carriers were trusted servants, and that goes to prove it,” Lynch said. “There are stories of rural carriers delivering babies and taking [care of the] sick. Even now, they’ll save lives because they’re sometimes the only persons that visit a remote household every day.”



 

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