Necessity is the mother of invention?
In January 1913, the United States Postal Service (USPS) began permitting customers to ship packages weighing up to 11 pounds via its new parcel post service. For the first time, merchants, farmers, and manufacturers were able to make deliveries through their mail carriers, just as people had been doing with letters since the 18th century.
When the new package service first launched, the USPS established few regulations apart from the 11-pound cap — providing an opportunity a few families took advantage of. Travel was still difficult and expensive for many at the time, and parcel post may have seemed like the ideal solution to ensure that familial ties were maintained. According to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum blog, between 1913 and 1915, six children were “mailed” through parcel post to waiting relatives.
The first was a baby boy who came in just under the weight limit and was transported by a mail carrier from his parents’ home in rural Ohio to his grandmother’s a mile or so away — costing a mere 15 cents in stamps. Over the course of the following two years, three other children journeyed by mail carrier, in addition to two youngsters who traveled via mail train.
In early 1914, the postmaster general issued a “no humans” rule for parcel post, though the practice didn’t end completely until 1915. According to Snopes, the first assistant postmaster general told The New York Times that “children did not come within the classification of harmless live animals which do not require food or water while in transit” like “bees or bugs,” a rule that still applies today.
Astonishing as this all sounds, it turns out — perhaps unsurprisingly — that families actually enlisted trusted postal workers for these tasks. Still, the entire practice certainly stands in stark contrast to today’s helicopter parenting.
By the way, just in case the photographs of babies in mail sacks make you believe there were infants traveling by mail all over the country, these pictures were largely publicity stunts. Funny, all the same.