Emily Ruth Verona
Weird History: Shipping a Baby in the Mail
Have you ever considered slapping a stamp on your baby and dropping them in the mailbox? Because in the early 20th century, you could have. Sort of.
America's Postal Service Act was signed in 1792 but the department did not formally distribute large packages and parcels until 1913. When parcel post became an option, it unintentionally sparked a rare but fascinating custom: sending babies through the mail. According to Smithsonian Magazine, Jesse and Mathilda Beagle of Ohio mailed their son to his grandmother that very year. Little James was just eight months old at the time and weighed a little under 11 pounds, which happened to be the weight limit for Parcel Post at the time. It cost them 15 cents to send him but $50 to insure him because he was, after all, their human child.
Of course, people were not legally permitted to mail children in this manner, but that didn't stop a few from trying. And those who tried continued to have some success.
In 1914, the parents of five-year-old Charlotte May Pierstorff (featured on the left) sent the little girl 73 miles by railway mail car from their home in Grangeville, Idaho to the town of Lewiston so that she could visit her grandmother. It was more cost-effective than taking her there themselves.
The Smithsonian's National Postal Museum shares the longest baby mail trek during this time was made by six-year-old Edna Neff, whose trip from Pensacola, Florida to Christainburg, Virginia took her over 700 miles. Just like with little James Beagles, who travelled by mail a few years before, it cost 15 cents to send Edna from her mother's home in Florida to her father's home in Virginia.
According to USA Today, records show that children continued to be occasionally posted through the mail until about 1915. The History Channel reports that three-year-old Maud Smith is believed to be the last child sent by post, traveling across Kentucky in 1915.
At this point, Albert S. Burleson (featured on the right below) who had became Postmaster
General in 1913, specifically barred people from handing children over to postal workers—which, you know, seems fair. Burlseon continued to serve as Postmaster General until 1921.
Today, you still can't mail human babies through the postal service, though the USPS website does note that the mailing of some live animals is permittable under what it deems to be "proper conditions". This includes live bees, birds, fish, and snails. Live scorpions can technically be sent through the mail, but only for medical research or for the production of antivenin.
Still, it's incredible to think that at one time you could hand a baby to a postal worker for a visit to grandma. But, hey, that's history for you.
Full disclosure, that glorious photograph of the baby in the mailbag at the top of this piece is authentically from the early 1900s but it was most definitely staged. Mail carriers didn't actually carry infants inside a mail bag like that. However, once word started to get around about the baby mailing hack, people staged some pretty amazing photos to commemorate the phenomenon.
[Image Credit: Mail carrier with baby photograph via Wikimedia Commons, Charlotte May Pierstorff portrait via Wikimedia Commons and Albert S. Burleson photograph via Wikimedia Commons]