In the early days of parcel post, the service was used by a large number of people, parents in particular, in unexpected ways.Despite being completely disregarded, it became one of the most significant innovations of the early 20th century when the Post Office started shipping large parcels and packages via mail. The Parcel Post after officially starting on 1 January 1913, began to flourish dramatically just like various other private delivery companies. It initiated its new service in full swing, suddenly allowing millions of Americans to access all kinds of goods and services. But it almost immediately faced some unintended consequences as some parents tried to send their children via the mail.
A United States Postal Service historian in his comment on this matter said, “It got some headlines when it happened, probably because it was so cute.”
Jesse and Mathilda Beagle from Ohio was the first couple to “mail” their 8-month-old-son James to his grandmother, who lived in Batavia. Baby James fitted well within the 11-pound weight limit for packages sent through the Parcel Post, and his delivery cost came out to be just 15 cents. His parents, however, insured him for $50. After this incident made headlines in the news, similar stories would occasionally surface over the years as many parents followed the footsteps of the Beagles.
As people started to push the limits of the Parcel Post, many stories about children being mailed through rural routes would crop up because postage was a lot cheaper than a train ticket, this method continued to build hype. In one famous case on February 19, 1914, Charlotte May was sent from her home in Grangeville, Idaho to her grandparents’ house which was located about 73 miles away. Nancy Pope covered the incident in her story, which became so legendary that it was later transcribed into a children’s book, Mailing May.
Luckily, little May was not shoved into a canvas sack along with other packages as she was accompanied by on her trip by her mother’s cousin, who was working as a clerk for the railway mail service back then. It is likely that his influence, and his sheer willingness to mail his young cousin, would have convinced the local officials to send the little girl along with other packages.
Over the years, such stories continued popping up from time to time as parents occasionally managed to slip their children by the help of their contacts. Finally, on June 14, 1913, different newspapers including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times ran stories about the declaration made by postmaster professing that they would no longer deliver children by mail. The regulations at that time only allowed bees and bugs to be posted by mail.
The odd practice of sometimes slipping the kids into the mail might reflect the incompetence or negligence of the mail carriers; on the other hand, it also shows that how much the rural communities relied on and trusted the local postal workers. Even now many rural postal workers are able to save lives as sometimes they are the only people to visit a remote household every day. Luckily, there are many travel options for kids nowadays than pinning a postage to their shirts and sending them off with a mailman.