A POSTAL CARRIERS EARLY RESPONSIBILITIES
When People Used the Postal Service to Mail Their Children
In the early days of U.S. parcel service, there weren’t clear guidelines about what you could and couldn’t mail.
In January 1913, one Ohio couple took advantage of the U.S. Postal Service’s new parcel service to make a very special delivery: their infant son. The Beagues paid 15 cents for his stamps and an unknown amount to insure him for $50, then handed him over to the mailman, who dropped the boy off at his grandmother’s house about a mile away.
Regulations about what you could and couldn’t send through the mail were vague when post offices began accepting parcels over four pounds on January 1, 1913. People immediately started testing its limits by mailing eggs, bricks, snakes and other unusual “packages.” So were people allowed to mail their children? Technically, there was no postal regulation against it.
“The first few years of parcel post service—it was a bit of a mess,” says Nancy Pope, head curator of history at the National Postal Museum. “You had different towns getting away with different things, depending on how their postmaster read the regulations.”
Pope has found about seven instances of people mailing children between 1913 and 1915, beginning with the baby in Ohio. It wasn’t common to mail your children, yet for long distances, it would’ve been cheaper to buy the stamps to send a kid by Railway Mail than to buy her a ticket on a passenger train.
In addition, people who mailed their children weren’t handing them over to a stranger. In rural areas, many families knew their mailman quite well. However, those two viral photos you might have seen online of postal workers carrying babies in their mailbag were staged photos, taken as a joke. A mailman might have carried a swaddled child who couldn’t walk, but he wouldn’t have let a diaper-wearing baby sit in a pile of people’s mail.