Decades before the first unaccompanied child was put on a plane to grandma’s in the care of a flight attendant, a few resourceful parents accomplished the same end by simply dropping their kids in the mail.
This was in the earliest days of the parcel post service, which launched in 1913. Before that, U.S. Postal Service packages were capped at four pounds, which limited the goofy things people tried to send by post.
But when the parcel service began, all kinds of cargo showed up in the mail stream, including coffins, eggs, dogs and, in a few cases, human young.
According to National Postal Museum historian Nancy Pope, the first known case of a mailed baby was in 1913 when Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Beauge of Glen Este, Ohio, shipped their 10-pound infant son to his grandmother’s home about a mile away, paying 15 cents in postage and springing for $50 in insurance (because they were worriers). Records do not indicate whether Grandmother Beauge received her mail in a mailbox or through a letter slot.
But some children were mailed much farther, Pope said. Edna Neff of Pensacola, Fla., was 6 when she was packed off — or packaged off — to her father’s home in Christiansburg, Va., 720 miles away.
The precious parcels weren’t truly parcels in the brown-paper and bubble-wrap sense. Instead they were more like companions or well-swaddled bundles in the arms of their carriers.
“They weren’t boxed up,” Pope said. “They were carried or walked along the route.”
But the most famous mailed child, May Pierstorff, was indeed sent by an Idaho railway mail car in 1914 with the appropriate stamps stuck to her traveling coat. Her adventure made it into a children’s book, “Mailing May.” May’s picture survives, but no physical evidence of her trip.
“We would sure love to have that coat,” Pope said.
In 1914, the postmaster general instituted a rule about the mail that stands to this day: no humans.
But that didn’t stop an ambitious thief from crating himself up and shipping himself airmail. When William DeLucia, packed in a trunk labeled “Musical Instruments” along with food and an oxygen tank, was airborne, he climbed out, pilfered thousands of dollars’ worth of goods from the registered mail and sealed himself back up. He was arrested at the Atlanta airport in 1980 after his trunk popped open as it was being unloaded.
“We have his oxygen tank” at the Postal Museum, Pope noted with pride.
Read more Retropolis: