1919 Bombs

New York City mail clerk Charles Kaplan saved some of America’s most prominent leaders from harm in 1919. On the evening of April 27, Kaplan was reading a newspaper on his train ride home. He noticed a story about a bomb that had injured a maid at the residence of Georgia Senator Thomas R. Hardwick. When he read the description of the device, it struck him that he had seen similar packages at the post office where he worked, but had placed them aside because they did not have enough postage and he was going to return them in the morning.

Kaplan got off the train and rushed back to his office to find the parcels and see if they really did resemble the Hardwick bomb. He found them, and they matched the newspaper’s description. Each package bore the return address of: "Gimbel Bros. 32nd St. and Broadway, New York City,” and was stamped in red on the back with the phrase, “Novelties—A sample.” The packages were brought to the attention of Postal Inspector W.E. Cochran, who, along with experts, carefully opened one of the packages. As suspected, it contained a bomb. It had been so carefully opened that Inspector Cochran was able to obtain critical information about the bomb’s manufacturing without harm.

Postmaster General Albert Burleson notified postmasters across the country to be on the lookout for similar parcels. A postmaster in Salisbury, North Carolina, found one of the packages the next day, addressed to Lee Slater Overman, one of the state’s senators. Postal employees found other packages addressed to individuals in Utah and Nebraska. In all, employees recovered 36 mail bombs across the country.