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Honey, Don’t Forget to Drop the Kids Off… in the Mail

The notion of mailing oneself to a friend, or perhaps a lover, is indeed more probably the stuff of silly love songs, and perhaps some urban legends, than reality.

Though seemingly apocryphal in nature, there are a few rather interesting cases where such tomfoolery has been attempted; consider the poor fool who mailed himself to his girlfriend as a prank in 2012. Though the delivery time only lasted three hours, the mailmen became lost along the way, and the Chinese man in question, Hu Seng, had been so tightly sealed in his container that he was unable to puncture through and create a hole through which to breathe. Fortunately, he did survive the ridiculous ordeal.

It was reported at the time of Mr. Seng’s little adventure that even small pets must be transported in special containers, for which, needless to say, Seng’s parcel did not qualify.

It is indeed a strange story, and one that might have ended in tragedy had the man’s actions resulted in his delivery status being DOA (dead on arrival). But there is at least one bit of history that falls within the “human mail delivery” category that might qualify for being even stranger.

Between 1913 an 1914, there are a number of reports of children being mailed to various locations. While seemingly cruel (and unlawful), this was allowed to occur because at the beginning of 1913, which coincided with the beginning of the United States Parcel Post Service, there were no laws that specifically prevented it… and several parents took advantage of this.

According to the U.S. Postal Service website, The Act of August 24, 1912 (37 Stat. 539), which authorized Parcel Post, specifically referred to “matter, including farm and factory products not now embraced by law in either the first, second or third class, not exceeding eleven pounds in weight, nor greater in size than seventy-two inches in length and girth combined.” However, regulations at that time also stated more generally that a package “could not weigh more than 50 pounds”, and further, that live bees and various other insects were allowed to be mailed as well.

Apparently, the logic here seems to be that if certain living creatures could be transported via mail, and if said creatures were less than 50 pounds in weight, then it must also be legal to ship other living things within this weight class… including children.

baby-mail

Writer Newton Culp discussed this unusual period in Postal Service history a few months back in an article from the Central Florida Stamp Club’s newsletter, in which several instances of what one might call “mail babies” were successfully delivered:

On January 17, 1913 Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Beauge mailed their son to his grandmother, who lived in Batavia, Ohio. Departing from the Beauge residence in nearby Glen Este, the trip clocked in at only about a mile, which was carried out by carrier Vernon Lytle for a fee of 15 cents (cheap!).

Ten days later, Mr. & Mrs. J.W. Savis of Pine Hollow, Pennsylvania mailed their daughter to family in nearby Sharpsville for a sum total of 45 cents. She was safely delivered that afternoon by area carrier James Byerly.

Similarly, five-year-old May Pierstorff of Graneville, Indiana, made a 73 mile trek via U.S. Parcel Post a little more than a year later, though she was within 1.5 pounds of being over the weight limit. 53 cents worth in U.S. stamps were attached to the jacket she wore for the trip, which resolved at her grandparent’s home in Lewiston.

mailmanbaby_0001

Stories like these sound bizarre by today’s standards, of course. They also offer a few interesting reflections, such as the kinds of actions that were considered “safe” for parents at the time (who, in truth, were operating within the limits of the law when mailing their children in this way, however strange it may sound). And in truth, the obvious liabilities associated with such cases no doubt helped define what, precisely, the U.S. Parcel Post system would be in the years to come: a system for delivery of packages, rather than inexpensive transportation for unsupervised toddlers.

However, it should be noted that children continued to be sent to various locations via mail until as late as 1920. In his article, Culp notes that 1915 had been “a banner year for mailing children,” and that such astounding activity would indeed continue for another five years, when in 1920 Congress took action against loophole in postal regulations. “They passed a law that took effect in June of 1920 that made it a Federal crime to mail humans, regardless of weight,” Culp wrote. “Among the items that you can still mail, if you follow the detailed regulations, are baby alligators, live scorpions, tiny quantities of cyanide and deceased human beings in the form of cremated ashes.”

Baby alligators and live scorpions… oh yes, and tiny quantities of cyanide.

Needless to say, in the post 9-11 present day America of, “does this package contain anything liquid, perishable, or hazardous,” such curious items certainly provide a bit of cultural contrast for us, don’t they?

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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