Smithsonian Confirms Birth of “Baby Mail”

Clipping from the NYT on the letter sent to the Postmaster General.

On January 1, 1913, the then Cabinet-level U.S. Post Office Department — now the U.S. Postal Service — first started delivering packages. Americans instantly fell in love with the new service and were soon mailing each other all sorts of items, like parasols, pitchforks and, yes, babies.

As documented in the article, “Very Special Deliveries,” by curator of the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum Nancy Pope, several children, including one “14-pound baby” were stamped, mailed and dutifully delivered by the U.S. Post Office between 1914 and 1915.

The practice, noted Pope, became affectionately known by letter carriers of the day as “baby mail.”

According to Pope, with postal regulations, being few and far between in 1913, they failed to specify exactly “what” could and could not be mailed via the still very new parcel post service. So in mid-January 1913, an unnamed baby boy in Batavia, Ohio was delivered by a Rural Free Delivery carrier to its grandmother about a mile away. “The boy’s parents paid 15-cents for the stamps and even insured their son for $50,” wrote Pope.

Despite a “no humans” declaration by the Postmaster General, at least five more children were officially mailed and delivered between 1914 and 1915.

A US postman carrying a baby boy along with his letters, USA, circa 1890.

Today many parents today can’t even fathom shipping your child through the U.S. Postal Service. Over a brief period of 6 years, it was possible to mail a baby or small child through the U.S. Postal Service.

In 1913, The United States Postal Service introduced parcel posts. Before then, all packages sent by mail had to weigh 4 pounds (1.8 kg) or under.

It didn’t take people long to realize that sending babies and young children in the mail was cheaper than purchasing train tickets. In 1913, the first baby was sent in the mail: 8-month-old James Beagle, who weighed 10 and 3/4 pounds, was sent from Glen Este, Ohio to his grandmother’s home in Batavia, a few miles away. The parents paid 15 cents for postage and $50 for insurance.

One child did make the trip in a railway mail car: 5-year-old May Pierstorff was sent from Grangeville to Lewiston, Idaho, to visit her grandmother on February 19, 1914. May was just under the weight limit at 48.5 pounds, and her parents realized that sending her by mail would be cheaper than buying her a train ticket. They attached the postage — 53 cents in parcel post stamps — to May’s coat, and she rode in the train’s mail compartment all the way to Lewiston. She was personally delivered to her grandmother’s home by Leonard Mochel, the mail clerk on duty.

One child did make the trip in a railway mail car: 5-year-old May Pierstorff was sent from Grangeville to Lewiston, Idaho, to visit her grandmother on February 19, 1914. May was just under the weight limit at 48.5 pounds, and her parents realized that sending her by mail would be cheaper than buying her a train ticket. They attached the postage — 53 cents in parcel post stamps — to May’s coat, and she rode in the train’s mail compartment all the way to Lewiston. She was personally delivered to her grandmother’s home by Leonard Mochel, the mail clerk on duty.

May Pierstorff was 6 in 1914 when she was mailed by her parents in Idaho to nearby relatives.

(Photo credit: National Postal Museum / Getty Images / Smithsonian).

A mailman with a baby (most likely a stage photograph).
When mailing babies was legal.
Another mailman posing with a baby in his bag.

Edna Neff, 6, was sent 720 miles from Pensacola, Florida to Christiansberg, Virginia, where her father lived. Finally, in 1915, several newspapers including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times all ran stories stating that the postmaster had officially decreed that children could no longer be sent through the mail.

The legality of shipping humans even back in 1913, but in 1920, the postmaster general finally ruled once and for all that children may not be shipped through the mail. Ever since, babies and young children have had to ride the train, plane, or bus with everyone else!

While the brief history of shipping kids in the mail may seem neglectful or downright cruel, it was actually a sign of how much rural communities trusted local postal workers.

“Mail carriers were trusted servants, and that goes to prove it. 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.

Audrey Childers is a published author, blogger, freelance journalist and an entrepreneur with over a decade of experience in research and editorial writing. She is also the creator and founder of the website the hypothyroidismchick.com. Where you can find great tips on everyday living with hypothyroidism. She enjoys raising her children and being a voice for optimal human health and wellness. She is the published author of : A survivors cookbook guide to kicking hypothyroidism booty, Reset your ThyroidThe Ultimate guide to healing hypothyroidism and  A survivors cookbook guide to kicking hypothyroidism booty: the slow cooker way. You can find all these books on Amazon.   This blog may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this copyright statement.

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