The First Packages
The service began on January 1, 1913. And begin it did. At the stroke of midnight Postmaster Edward M. Morgan in New York City and Postmaster General Hitchcock dropped packages addressed to each other into the mail, racing to be the first to use the service. They were not alone in looking to create a “first” out of the new service. These cups were the first objects officially mailed under the new service. But the first package to be delivered was 11 pounds of apples sent to New Jersey governor (and President-Elect) Woodrow Wilson. The Woodrow Wilson Club of Princeton deposited the apples at a local post office at precisely 12:01 a.m. By prearrangement, the carrier assigned to normally deliver the governor’s mail, David Gransom, received the parcel “before the cancelling ink was dry” and set off “driving furiously down the muddy street for the president elect’s home.”(1) He delivered the apples to the waiting Wilson at 12:04 a.m. Wilson met Gransom at the door, signed for the package, and presented the carrier with the pencil.
The Chicago Daily Tribune offered up a race between parcel post and the express companies. At 12:01 a.m. that New Year’s morning they dropped 20 packages of “various sizes and weights” at the central post office, as well as 20 other packages deposited with express companies.(2) Two days later, the results were in. The government delivery service won 12 of the 20 races. Eleven express packages had not yet been received, compared to five parcel post packages.
While most post offices didn’t open at midnight to receive parcels on that first day of service, a number opened during New Year’s Day for a couple of hours. These first hours of the service proved irresistible to mailers across the country. Among other parcels sent on the first day of service were a set of 58 engraved and enameled silver spoons (representing the US states and territories) from ex Postmaster General John Wanamaker to President Taft. Postmaster General Hitchcock received a number of packages, including eggs mailed from Long Island, New York. They arrived intact. The Omaha, Nebraska, post office wasn’t quite as lucky. The postmaster received a mailed package of two dozen fresh country eggs sent from Arion, Iowa. When the eggs arrived at Omaha, they were “a mass of uncooked scrambled eggs and egg shells.”(3) A dozen eggs mailed from Harrisonburg to Philadelphia had better luck. They were received in good shape during their seven hour mail trip.(4)
At the Birmingham, Alabama, post office, the first item mailed through the service must have been hard to wrap. It was a 5’-long pitchfork weighing six pounds. The pitchfork was mailed by W.R. Kreh to E.W. Kreh of Good Pine, Louisiana and cost 38-cents to mail.(5) In San Jose, California, city promoters loaded two carloads of local prunes into packages (along with helpful cooking tips) addressed to recipients all over the country. (6) San Jose wasn’t the only city with a huge number of items. The Southern Broom Works mailed dozens of brooms out of the Atlanta, Georgia post office on the first day of service. A single item was the first package mailed at that post office. It was a violin case mailed to Miss Alice Touchstone in Zetella, Georgia.
On New Year’s Day William F. Parry, a brick dealer and creative mailer, drove two wagons loaded with 1,000 paving brings up to the Gary, Indiana post office. The bricks, weighing 6,000 pounds altogether, were wrapped and stamped in packages not exceeding the 11 pound weight limit.(7) The first package mailed in Boston, Massachusetts was, appropriately enough, a small pot of Boston baked beans mailed to city mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald (President Kennedy’s maternal grandfather). A line 100-people long convinced Minneapolis’s postmaster William D. Hale to open the city’s post office on New Year’s Day instead of Thursday, January 2nd. In just the ninety minutes from 9:30-11am that the postmaster had the parcel post window open, 100 packages were accepted. That city’s first parcel post package was a box of cigars mailed by Harry Smith to his brother.(8) The Omaha Daily Bee noted that W.W. Dewey of Omaha, Nebraska was first in line at that city’s parcel post window, followed by J.G. Miller, also of Omaha, but neglected to share the contents of either package. The paper did note that at least 200 people mailed out parcels under the new system on the first day of service.(9) In San Francisco, city treasurer John McDougald mailed the first parcel, sending pancake flour out at 1am to Mrs. Wesley McKenzie. The first package delivered in the city was a box mailed to the San Francisco Call from hatter Jay McCabe of the city. The newspaper noted that the parcel post window was open from 9am until noon on New Year’s Day. The city’s post offices received over 100 packages altogether. Mrs. E.Q. Smith of San Rafael, California, mailed that city’s first parcel post package, a box of the state’s “choicest midwinter flowers” to a recipient in Memphis, Tennessee.(10)11) In Hopkinsville, Kentucky, deputy postmaster Gus Breathitt sent a package of “good old Christian County smoking tobacco” to his cousin in Marshall, Missouri.(12) The Bemidji Daily Pioneer noted that the Minneapolis Journal had sent out thirteen bricks addressed to all parts of the country, including one that was on its way to Bemidji – “rural route one.”(13) The second day of service was just as frenzied in most areas. In New York City, postmaster Morgan reported that over 10,000 packages were mailed in Manhattan and the Bronx on January 2nd. During that day, 1,187 parcel post packages were delivered in those two boroughs.(14)
Of course, since mail is not just about sending, but also receiving, a number of people worked together to make interesting “firsts” by returned mail. Also in Atlanta, Dr. Linton Smith mailed a beef roast from downtown to his wife at their home. It made the morning delivery and arrived to Mrs. Smith at 11am. It was “yet cold from the ice box out of which it had been taken at the market by Dr. Smith barely a couple of hours earlier.”(15) In Tacoma, Washington, letter carrier John G. Simons got his picture in the paper as the carrier who made the “first parcel delivery” in that city. The parcel, a roasted chicken, mailed from Colby, Washington, was received at the post office and delivered 30 minutes later by Simons.(16)
1) Chicago Daily Tribune, January 1, 1913, p. 3
2) Chicago Daily Tribune, January 1, 1913, page 3
3) Chicago Daily Tribune, January 3, 1913, page 3
4) New York Tribune, January 3, 1913, page 5
5) The Atlanta Constitution, January 1, 1913, p. 2
6) Boston Daily Globe, January 1, 1913, p. 10
7) The Tacoma Times, January 2, 1913, p. 8
8) The Bemidji Daily Pioneer, January 2, 1913, front page
9) Omaha Daily Bee, January 2, 1913, front page
10) The San Francisco Call, January 2, 1913, page 8
11) The Evening Herald, January 2, 1913, front page
12) The Hopkinsville Kentuckian, January 2, 1913, front page
13) The Bemidji Daily Pioneer, ibid.
14) The New-York Tribune, January 3, 1913, page 5
15) The Atlanta Constitution, January 2, 1913, p. 7
16) The Tacoma Times, January 3, 1913, front page