Discoveries: Mailing Babies by Parcel Post?


Active member

Doing family history research in an archive of historical newspapers will turn up many facts and stories about your ancestors. To make this research even more rewarding and enjoyable, newspapers can delight us with sudden surprises—unexpected articles that can be humorous, unusual, or even a little bizarre.

The following story is a good example. We all know the unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." But did you know that on at least two occasions in the past, the bundles the mail carriers were delivering were more precious than a stack of letters and bills—they were dropping off children that had been sent in the mail!

If you were researching your Virginia ancestors in the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper, and came upon the front page of its Jan. 17, 1913, issue, you'd be startled to find this article, entitled "May Mail Babies by Parcels Post":

Parcel Post Service had just been introduced to Americans on Jan. 1, 1913, and not everyone was clear on what this new service could provide. As the newspaper article explains, Postmaster General Hitchcock—a bachelor—was a little puzzled and somewhat embarrassed about how best to answer an unusual letter he received, asking for instructions on how to mail a baby! The letter, with a touch of pathos, reads:

Ft. McPherson, Ga.
Postmaster General:
Washington, D.C.

"Sir:—I have been corresponding with a party in Pa. about getting a baby to rais[e] (Our home being without One). May I ask you what specifications to use in wrapping so it (Baby) would comply with regulations and be allowed shipment by parcel post as the express Co. are too rough in handling. Yours—"

Postal regulations in 1913 only permitted the shipping of live "bees and bugs." Accordingly, the article concludes with this paragraph:

"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, the Postmaster General is apprehensive he may not be of assistance to his correspondent."

Now there's an unusual story for you, one sure to give you a chuckle and enliven your family research as you continue searching historical newspapers. However, there's a postscript to this story: in spite of the regulations, people did try to send children through the mail—and on at least two occasions, actually succeeded!

According to the Smithsonian Institution "at least two children were sent by the service (with stamps attached to their clothing, the children rode with railway and city carriers to their destination). The Postmaster General quickly issued a regulation forbidding the sending of children in the mail after hearing of those examples."

According to the National Postal Museum: "One of the oddest parcel post packages ever sent was "mailed" from Grangeville to Lewiston, Idaho, on February 19, 1914. The 48½-pound package was just short of the 50-pound limit. The name of the package was May Pierstorff, four years old.

"May's parents decided to send their daughter for a visit with her grandparents, but were reluctant to pay the train fare. Noticing that there were no provisions in the parcel post regulations specifically concerning sending a person through the mails, they decided to "mail" their daughter. The postage, 53-cents in parcel post stamps, was attached to May's coat. This little girl traveled the entire distance to Lewiston in the train's mail compartment and was delivered to her grandmother's home by the mail clerk on duty, Leonard Mochel."

See: Smithsonian. National Postal Museum (scroll down to May's picture):

There are at least two known photographs of letter carriers delivering children—both taken in good humor:


The photograph on the left is from the Smithsonian Institution Collection: National Postal Museum, Curatorial Photographic Collection. Photographer: unknown. Image number: A.2006-22.

The photograph on the right was taken in Bangor, Maine, by Frank C. Weston. It was published online by The Cabinet Card Collector. See:

So keep reading those newspapers—you never know what unusual stories you'll find!