How to take advantage of the best bargain in the world: the USPS.
1. A BANK
W.H. Coltharp was in charge of building the Bank of Vernal, Utah, and wanted the edifice to be made of bricks from Salt Lake City. But it was 1916. Bricks were usually shipped via commercial freight wagon, and that was expensive. So Coltharp found a way to cut costs: ship bricks one by one. He ordered 15,000 bricks, individually wrapped, and had them shipped by parcel post. The shrewd scheme cost the post office a fortune.
2. LIVE CATS
In 1897, New York City installed a 27-mile system of pneumatic tubes, connecting 23 post offices. It shot mail at 35 miles per hour, blasting anything that could fit in a shipping canister. Like cats. Eyewitnesses reported one cat, once extracted, appeared shaken but unharmed. It wasn’t the last time a cat took a ride on the tube: The system was later used to transport a sick kitty to the vet. No word if it took Dramamine before embarking.
3. THE HOPE DIAMOND
The Hope Diamond is worth more than $250 million. You’d think anybody planning to move it would bring an armed guard of Chuck Norris clones. But when jeweler Harry Winston donated the gem to the Smithsonian in 1958, he simply sent it in the post. “It’s the safest way to mail gems,” he said. “I’ve sent gems all over the world that way.” Shipping the stone cost him only $2.44! (He paid extra to insure it.)
So long as an item is self-contained and reasonably sturdy, the USPS will ship anything package-free. Just slap on some stamps and write an address on a potato, for example, and your spud is ready to go. This goes for other edibles too, like coconuts and limes. If you’re too lazy (or embarrassed) to send a potato, the company Mail a Spud will do it for you. Whether the recipient will be flattered by your well-traveled tater is another story.
For more than three decades, you could buy homes in the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog—and most pieces were delivered to your doorstep (if you had one). From 1908 to 1940, the Modern Homes catalog sold about 75,000 houses, with prices ranging from $360 to $2,890. The precut fitted timber claimed to require just one carpenter. Along with a home, the kit came with two trees to plant in your new front yard.