On January 1, 1913, after decades of petitions, pleadings (both public and private) from rural Americans and postal officials, the Post Office Department instituted Parcel Post Service. The fight against the service had pitted the nation’s largest private delivery companies against rural organizations such as the National Grange. Although the Grange and postal officials had finally been able to wrest away money to begin nation-wide Rural Free Delivery service their fight for parcel post would take almost two more decades. Among those who kept parcel post legislation bottled up in Congress were U.S. Senators Thomas Platt, Chauncey Depew, and Nelson Aldrich, who had financial interests in the private delivery companies.
After the legislation finally triumphed, postal officials celebrated in a very geeky, but postal way. The Postmaster of New York City raced the Postmaster General of the U.S. to be the first to mail something by Parcel Post Service. Each gentleman mailed a trophy cup with an inscription bragging that their piece was the first parcel mailed under the new service. Because neither group thought to include independent observers with synchronized watches, true bragging rights were never settled.
The trophies were exchanged between the postmaster of the nation’s largest post office, Edward Morgan, of New York City, and Frank Hitchcock, the Postmaster General. Morgan’s trophy was mailed to Hitchcock from New York City just after midnight on January 1, 1913. The trophy was inscribed:
To The Honorable Frank H. Hitchcock Postmaster General of the United States during whose administration the American Parcel Post was established. This being the first parcel mailed at the moment of its inauguration 12 o'clock midnight January First Nineteen Thirteen at the city of New York by EDWARD M. MORGAN POSTMASTER from John Wanamaker, Postmaster General of the United States, 1889 to 1893.
Morgan’s trophy cup included a reference to its origin, provided to Morgan by John Wanamaker, Postmaster General from 1889 to 1893. Wanamaker had long been a long-time proponent of a government parcels post. Unfortunately for him, his motives for the service were questioned. Wanamaker’s family owned a large department store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Detractors warned that Wanamaker wanted the service so he could extend his family’s business empire.
At the same time Postmaster General Frank H. Hitchcock was mailing engraved trophy cup from Washington, D.C., to Morgan. Hitchcock’s trophy was inscribed:
This Cup Was the first article sent by Parcel Post in the United States. It was forwarded to Postmaster Edward M. Morgan of New York City by Postmaster Frank H. Hitchcock whom mailed it in person at the Washington / City Post Office immediately after midnight on the morning of January 1, 1913. Presented to the National Museum. By Postmaster Morgan.
Others sought to mail the first packages in the new service. While it is difficult to name the first package mailed under the service, the first item delivered is easier to identify. The Woodrow Wilson Club of Princeton mailed a package of apples at a local post office at 12:01 a.m. The carrier assigned to deliver Governor Wilson’s mail, David Gransom, snatched the package from the postmaster and it was delivered to the governor by 12:04 a.m., and signed by the Governor who was awake and celebrating the New Year’s Eve.
The St. Louis post office received six eggs shortly after midnight on New Year’s Day, mailed to a recipient in Edwardsville, Illinois. The eggs were “returned” in a delicious way to the sender. They were mailed back as part of a freshly baked cake by 7:00 p.m. on the same day.
The service was an immediate success. At first the service limited packages to 11 pounds in weight and no more than 72” overall in size. During the first five days, over 4 million parcels were mailed under the new service. And as postal workers discovered that fall, Christmas mail volume would never be the same again.
Written by Nancy A. Pope