“Come little Billy, momma needs to put this post stamp on you, so you can visit memaw,” was probably what an average U.S. mom would say back in the early 20th century when mailing children was apparently a thing.
On January 1, 1913, U.S. post offices began accepting parcels over four pounds. However, the regulations about what you could and couldn’t send through the mail were rather vague. So, of course, people had a ball with this legal loophole and began mailing anything they could find over four pounds, like bricks, snakes, and eggs, among other things.
Once people realized that children were over four pounds, they started mailing them too.
According to the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, between 1913 and 1915, several children, including one “14-pound baby,” were stamped, mailed, and delivered by the Post Office.
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Well, why not?
The shipping cost was cheaper than train fare, and there was no specific rule against it, so parents would slap 15¢ or so worth of stamps onto the child, and off it would go.
”The first few years of parcel post service—it was a bit of a mess,” says Nancy Pope, head curator of history at the National Postal Museum. “You had different towns getting away with different things, depending on how their postmaster read the regulations,” Pope adds.
In January 1913, a Rural Free Delivery carrier delivered a baby boy in Batavia, Ohio, to his grandmother. “The boy’s parents paid 15 cents for the stamps and insured him for $50,” Pope wrote.
All told, there seem to be about seven instances of children being sent to a relative by mail. The longest “shipment” was in 1915 when a woman in Florida mailed her 6-year-old daughter to her father in Virginia— a trip of 720 miles. Postage was 15 cents.
Pope says the children were “mailed” by trusted postal workers, often chosen by the child’s parents.
Letter carriers of the day nicknamed the practice “baby mail.”
The last child to be sent through the U.S. Post was Maud Smith in August 1915. The three-year-old was mailed over 40 miles to the home of her sick mother.
Although regulations were put in place to stop the mailing of children, people wanted to take advantage of the much lower mailing costs as railway tickets were much more expensive. As late as June 1920, Assistant Postmaster General John C. Koons was still getting applications to send children through the mail, though all were denied.
And what reason did Koons use to reject the applications?
The children couldn’t be classified as “harmless live animals.”
Boy, if that ain’t the truth.