A History Lesson With Booze ®

Mailing Children Through the US Post

In the early days of the US Postal Service, customers were experimenting with what exactly the service meant and what they could send. Several children ended up "mailed" (really, escorted to their destination by postal workers) at the dawn of the 20th century. 

Photo from collection of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum

In the early twentieth century, people were pretty clever about saving a buck. Case in point: the parents of May Pierstroff. She was a cute blonde six-year-old living in Idaho. And in February 1914, her folks wanted to get her to her grandparents’ house– seventy miles away. Train fare was expensive. So they went with a cheaper method of delivery: they mailed her.

Parcel post service had only begun the year before. And while the rules said you couldn’t mail a parcel over 50 pounds, they did not say it couldn’t be a human being. So the Pierstroffs stuck 53 cents worth of stamps on May’s jacket… and she rode the mail train to granny’s.

Now, before you retroactively call child welfare on the Pierstroffs, you should know one of their relatives worked on the train, and he walked her to her grandfolks’ front door. And there are least five other cases where folks beat the system by having trusted mail carriers transport kids, sometimes even infants, to distant family members, for pennies per mile.

Even so, you can imagine the postal service was less than excited about being used as a cut-rate passenger service and about its employees assuming responsibility for people’s actual live babies.

So in June 1920, a law went into effect. No humans in the mail, regardless of weight.

The postal service isn’t a total spoilsport, though – there’s still plenty of stuff you are allowed to send, if you follow regulations. Including live scorpions, tiny quantities of cyanide, and deceased human beings in the form of cremated ashes.