In the Early 1900s, the United States Postal Service Would Let You Mail a Child

A postal carrier with a special delivery.
A postal carrier with a special delivery. / Smithsonian Institution, Flickr // Public Domain

The United States Postal Service has a proud tradition of transporting letters and packages in a timely and efficient manner. Parcels were a later addition; the USPS was granted the ability to deliver items greater than 4 pounds as of January 1, 1913.

Like any new service, there were attempts to game the system. In this case, it involved parents attempting to mail their children.

According to the Smithsonian, it was not unheard of for enterprising—and some might say grossly incompetent—parents to exploit the new Parcel Post service for the transport of tykes. One such example occurred in Ohio, when Jesse and Mathilda Beagle mailed their son, 8-month-old James, to his grandmother a few miles away, paying just 15 cents for the service. (Had the postal carrier lost him, there was recourse: the Beagles insured James for $50.)

Such stories appeared periodically in the media, with parents effectively using the Postal Service as a courier for their child. In 1914, 4-year-old Charlotte May Pierstorff traveled 73 miles by train in Idaho to her grandparents’ house. Her mother’s cousin worked for the railway mail service and accompanied her.

Pierstorff’s legend eventually grew to the point where she was said to have been mailed under the “chicken rate” for livestock, but this is apparently incorrect, as no such rate existed until 1918. She did, however, reportedly have postage stamps stuck to her coat.

While such stories are true, they typically happened in rural areas, where postal carriers were sometimes the only reliable method of transport and were viewed by households as trustworthy. Despite that hearty endorsement, the Postal Service quickly made it known that carriers were not to accept children and the practice soon fell out of favor. All told, as many as seven children may have been sent along mail routes, with one traveling 720 miles, before the post office insisted that bees and bugs were the only live things acceptable.

[h/t Smithsonian]