When the U.S. Post started its Parcel Service in 1913, it brought about all kinds of shenanigans. People used their trusted mailman to deliver all kinds of esoteric goods, from bugs to bacteria to entire bank buildings. But the most bizarre and precious cargo a U.S. postman has ever had to handle had to be widdle babies.
Would you trust your mail carrier to deliver your baby? No, not like that; in the more literal and more irresponsible sense. When USPS raised their parcel weight limit from 4 lbs to 11 lbs in 1913, plenty of American parents reckoned: "Hey, that's about the same weight as our bouncing baby!" So some made full use of their new post office policy by 'mailing' -- nope, that actually doesn't need air quotes-- by mailing their children to their relatives instead of making the trip themselves.
This postnatal shipping only ever happened in very rural areas. Places that deeply trusted/relied on their post office and where everyone knew the postman's first name and favorite beer. It usually wasn't very far either. The first recorded case of a baby going postal was in Glen Este, Ohio, where postman Vernon O. Lytle was tasked with taking the Beagle Boy a mile up the road to see his grandma. (His parents did have him insured for $50 in case the baby came back with a dent and they had to buy a new one). But the distances did keep growing. Some of the later examples include a two-year-old who was shipped all the way from Stratford, Oklahoma, to an aunt in Wellington, Kansas. And the (very lithe) six-year-old Edna Neff of Pensacola, Florida, was pack(ag)ed off to her father 720 miles away in Christiansburg, Virginia.
But the real exploit wasn't bagging a government employee as a temporary babysitter while you stay home and drink moonshine. For most, it was about money. Thrifty country parents realized that it was much cheaper to put their kid on a train with a book of stamps kissed onto their forehead than buying an actual train ticket. Those that didn't do it for the savings did it for the fame. One girl, May Pierstorff, even got a book made of her exciting adventures riding the rails of Idaho with her new post office pals.
How was this legal? It wasn't. Postmaster General Frank Harris Hitchcock quickly reminded parents that only a select group of living creatures (bees and bugs, mostly) qualified as "harmless live animals" were to be handled by the post. And Hitchcock, a confirmed bachelor, didn't consider toddlers to be harmless. But with the stunts continuing, he had no choice but to outright ban the practice, with USPS making the ruling: "Children may not be transported as parcel post." So if you ever wished that the crying baby on your flight would just be shoved into the cargo hold, now you know why that's no longer allowed.
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Top Image: National Postal Museum