Very Special Deliveries

02.19.2013
Blog

By Nancy Pope, Historian and Curator

On February 19, 1914, May Pierstorff, just short of her 6th birthday, was “mailed” from her parents’ home in Grangeville, Idaho to her grandparents’ house about 73 miles away for just 53-cents worth of stamps. May’s parents were taking advantage of parcel post service, which began just the year before. In the early years of this service, customers and postal officials were still getting used to how the service could be used. But mailing children?

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Young May Pierstorff, the most famous of the parcel post children packages.

Amazingly enough May wasn’t the only child entrusted to parcel post service. But before images of babies bouncing around in mailbags start appearing in your head, the children whose families entrusted them to the Post Office Department were “mailed” by traveling with trusted postal workers (in May’s case, a relative who worked on the Railway Mail trains).

The first child “mailed” in the U.S. was an unnamed boy in Batavia, Ohio in mid January 1913. The son of Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Beauge of Glen Este, Ohio was carried by Rural Free Delivery carrier Vernon Little to its grandmother, Mrs. Louis Beague about a mile away. The boy’s parents paid 15-cents for the stamps and even insured their son for $50.

On January 27 Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Savis of Pine Hollow, Pennsylvania entrusted their daughter to rural carrier James Byerly out of Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, who delivered her safely that afternoon to relatives in Clay Hollow. The daughter cost her parents 45-cents to send.

In spite of that busy start, the rest of the year passed without postal officials having to face other children traveling by mail. May’s travels in early 1914, along with an inquiry about mailing children that month inspired Postmaster General Burleson to issue directions to the nation’s postmasters that all human beings were barred from the mails.

Of course for some, laws are meant to be broken. And merely a month after the “no-humans” announcement, rural carrier B.H. Knepper in Maryland carried a 14-pound baby from its grandmother’s home in Clear Spring to the mother’s house in Indian Springs, twelve miles away. A local newspaper reported that the baby slept through the entire trip.

A year later, the longest trip by a child “mailed” through parcel post was made by six-year-old Edna Neff. She traveled from her mother’s home in Pensacola, Florida, to her father’s home in Christainburg, Virginia. There is little information on the specifics of Edna’s trip, which was made by railway mail train other than her weight, recorded as just under the 50-pound limit resulting in a trip cost 15 cents in parcel post stamps.

The year of 1915 was a banner year for mailing children. Unburdened by regulations now on the books against mailing children, two more trips were made after Edna’s that year. In March rural carrier Charles Hayes of Tarkin, Missouri carried Mr. and Mrs. Albert Combs’ daughter Helen by parcel post for 10-cents. Hayes delivered Helen to her grandmother, Mrs. C.H. Combs, whose home was also on his route. That September, three-year-old Maud Smith made her parcel post journey when she traveled from her grandparents’ home to her mother’s, Mrs. Celina Smith of Jackson, Kentucky. A local newspaper noted that this particular trip was being investigated by the postal officials. Superintendent John Clark of the Cincinnati division of the Railway Mail Service asked the Caney, Kentucky postmaster to explain who he allowed the child onto the train as parcel post in clear violation of postal rules. Perhaps it was the public notice of the investigation, but for whatever reason, it appears to have been the final case of “child mail.”

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Carriers and photographs had fun with the idea of “mailing” babies.

This image is not only a part of a collection of Smithsonian photographs on Flickr,  but is the most popular photograph from the Institution in that collection.

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This “baby in the mail” fun photograph takes the idea a step farther by having the baby be the letter carrier.
 

Nancy Pope

About the Author
Nancy A. Pope, a Smithsonian Institution curator and founding historian of the National Postal Museum, has worked with the items in this collection since joining the Smithsonian Institution in 1984. In 1993 she curated the opening exhibitions for the National Postal Museum. Since then, she has curated several additional exhibitions. Nancy led the project team that built the National Postal Museum's first website in 2002. She also created the museum's earliest social media presence in 2007.