Bookmark and Share

Precious Packages- America's Parcel Post Service

Reaching Everybody By Parcel Post. A parital list of goods advertised under the heading of 'Buy by Parcel Post' today comprises candy, eggs, butter, shoes and groceries. With but few exceptions anything weighing under eleven pounds can be mailed. Somebody wants what you have. Advertising will find them. Our Information Bureau may help, too.- New York Tribune notice announcing Parcel Post Service
New York Tribune notice announcing Parcel Post Service

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. 

Men and women in a city post office examining the list of goods that are now available from farm families through the new 'Farm to Table' program that matched rural produce with city demand
Men and women in a city post office examining the list of goods that are now available from farm families through the new "Farm to Table" program that matched rural produce with city demand.

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. 

Very Special Parcels

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. 

black and white photo of the Bank of Vernal
Bank that moved through the Parcel Post System

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. 

May Pierstorff
May Pierstorff

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. 

« Back

Additional Imagery

  • My Parcel Post Man sheet music cover with an illustrated postal worker
    Sheet music for the song My Parcel Post Man
  • boxes created for shipping laundry, eggs, butter, a queen bee, and other Parcel Post Service items
    These are some of the Parcel Post Service items in the Museum's collection. They include boxes created for shipping laundry, eggs, butter, and a queen bee.