Historical Lie: It Was Once Fashionable To Mail The Kids

To be clear about their sentiments on the idea, on June 13, 1920, the U.S. Post Office made it official policy that carriers could not deliver children via Parcel service.

The Post Office had made parcel service available in 1913, and while the rumor that parents shipped their kids via mail makes the occasional rounds on social media platforms, in truth it never happened. That is to the best of our knowledge, other than a few harmless gags and photo-ops.

What’s even more curious than the idea of mailing children is the social machine that would perpetuate such a farce. Ask enough people; eventually one will swear that folks used to mail children. They’ll even forward the email to you to prove it.

Talk about believing everything one reads on the interwebs.

Origin Story

Where this started was likely as a gag. In 1913, the U.S. Postal Service introduced something called parcel post. It was like the 20th-century version of Amazon.com.

With enough stamps, businesses could suddenly ship goods straight to buyers via the mail carrier. Prior to that, the post office only delivered normal letters, cards, and the sort of thing one could slide under a door. Packages went via private delivery service or as part of a larger order.

The rules for the new U.S. parcel service limited packages to 50 pounds or less, any shape or size. The price per pound worked out to less than the cost of a standard train ticket, so somebody somewhere suggested mailing the kids instead of paying for a train ticket.

Although stories pop up about people who were purportedly mailed, only two confirmed cases occurred, and they were larks. It didn’t help that the New York Times ran what today we would call fake news.

The Times suggested that the postmaster general, a man named Hitchcock, was considering an infant parcel service. The article was in response to a letter received by Hitchcock, where someone inquired about mailing a baby.

The Times article concluded that Hitchcock declined to oblige the request:

“As babies, in the opinion of the Postmaster General, do not fall within the category of bees and bugs — the only live things that may be transported by mail — he is apprehensive that he may not be of assistance to his correspondent.”

Real Cases

The Times article, no doubt, stirred a few imaginations. Had Americans not yet considered the idea, they were sure to kick it around now, if not in good humor. One can imagine the comments as folks read the article.

Mailing a child? Heavens.

Well, if one can’t trust the postal service, who can he trust?

Two cases popped up, both reported by the times and chronicled in the Smithsonian Institute.

In one case, a mail carrier from Ohio delivered a baby via parcel one whole mile. It was a stunt, but oh how seeds of ideas can grow into forests when one turns her back.

For our email friends who insists that this was once a real thing, they mean this case: A baby, weighing fewer than 11-pounds, traveled via parcel about one mile.

“The boy was well wrapped and ready for ‘mailing’ when the carrier received him to-day. [The carrier] delivered the boy safely at the address on the card attached, that of the boy’s grandmother, Mrs. Louis Beagle, who lives about a mile distant.”

The Times must have found the idea worthy of attention. A year later they reported on another case out of Oklahoma, this time a two-year-old boy.

“The boy wore a tag about his neck showing it had cost 18 cents to send him through the mails. He was transported 25 miles by rural route before reaching the railroad. He rode with the mail clerks, shared his lunch with them and arrived here in good condition.”

Return to Sender

Whether it was all part of one big publicity stunt or the post office legal team thought it wise to set the record straight, in 1920 they made it officially illegal to mail children.

This also made it into the Times…

“Children may not be transported as parcel post, First Assistant Postmaster General Koons has ruled in passing upon two applications received at the Washington City Post Office for the transportation of children through the mails.”

Whatever else they were, the two cases reported by the Times did not go over as funny with the postmaster general. At least they were isolated cases, the only two we can substantiate.

Since then, someone took photos of babies in mail carrier’s bags, humorous but farcical. The images usually accompany the emails and social media posts claiming that once upon a time one could mail a baby and that it was legal.

They are not pictures(above) of the actual cases. The claims made by these emails and posting are, of course, not true.

Whether any other children traveled via parcel we’ll never know for sure, but we do know that it was June 13, 1920, when the U.S. Postal Service cleared up any questions. One can send bees, but not babies.

Sources: snopes.com, postalmuseumblog.si.edu