Search


Site Map

Contact


National Postal Museum

Smithsonian National Postal Museum


skip navigation

About the Museum
Exhibits
The Collection
For Educators
Stamp Collecting
Research
Getting Involved
Activity Zone
Museum Library





Exhibits




Customers and Communities : Reaching Rural America : Parcel Post

Precious Packages—America's Parcel Post Service

New York Tribune notice
enlarge
New York Tribune notice announcing Parcel Post Service

The Farm to Table program
enlarge

Parcel Post Service became available to Americans on January 1, 1913. Farm families, having made Rural Free Delivery a nation-wide success, were especially anxious to welcome the new service. Prior to 1913, farmers had to convey their produce to the nearest town large enough to support an express office, which added to the price of transporting their goods to the city. But with the combination of RFD and Parcel Post, package service was provided right from their mailbox.

The growth of Parcel Post service was phenomenal. During the first six months of operation approximately 300 million parcels were handled and the introduction of collect-on-delivery service on July 1, 1913 only added to the popularity. The popularity of parcel post was also evident as postal officials increased the allowable weight of parcels. In 1913, the maximum weight was increased from 11 to 20 pounds for the first and second zones. Soon thereafter, the maximum rose again, from 20 to 50 pounds.

Urban dwellers were also great fans of the new service. During roughly the first five days of service, 1,594 out of the 1,650 post offices providing city delivery service reported handling 4,068,824 Parcel Post packages. The introduction of Parcel Post created an immediate demand for special packaging suitable for mailing the array of objects and commodities considered as mailable under the system.

Box manufacturers responded by producing a diversity of boxes capable of shipping such commodities as eggs, butter, celery, etc. Eggs were a mainstay of Parcel Post. Six eggs were the first objects sent by Parcel Post from St. Louis. Mailed to Edwardsville, Illinois, from the main city post office at 12:05 a.m., the eggs came back to St. Louis in the form of a freshly baked cake, which was delivered at 7 p.m.



Sheet music
enlarge
Sheet music for the song My Parcel Post Man

Display of boxes for shipping various goods
enlarge
These are some of the Parcel Post Service items in the Museum's collection.



Very Special Parcels

Vernal, Utah, bank
enlarge
Bank that moved through the Parcel Post System

By far the largest object ever moved through the Parcel Post System was a bank. Not all at once, of course, but practically brick by brick. When W. H. Coltharp, in charge of building the Bank of Vernal, Utah was confronted with the task of getting bricks for the bank, he turned to the Parcel Post Service. The bricks which Coltharp wanted were produced by the Salt Lake Pressed Brick Company, located 127 miles from Vernal. Instead of paying four times the cost of the bricks for them to be shipped by wagon freight, Coltharp arranged for the bricks to be shipped in 50-pound packages, through the Parcel Post Service, a ton at a time.

The Salt Lake City and Vernal postmasters as well as the Uintah Railroad, all responsible for hauling the bricks became frantic as tons of bricks piled up. Memos flew between postmasters and finally to Postmaster General Burleson. Although it was too late to stem the tide of bricks which threatened to overwhelm the tiny post office, Burleson and his staff rewrote the affecting legislation to limit to 200 pounds the total weight of parcel post which one consignor could send to one consignee in a day. In a letter announcing the amendment to the legislation, he noted that "it is not the intent of the United States Postal Service that buildings be shipped through the mail." In the end, all 40 tons of bricks were delivered for Coltharp's bank.

One of the oddest parcel post packages ever sent was "mailed" from Grangeville to Lewiston, Idaho on February 19, 1914. The 48 1/2 pound package was just short of the 50 pound limit. The name of the package was May Pierstorff, three months short of six 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.



May Pierstorff
enlarge
A package named May Pierstorff












Back to Top