No Crying Babies on a Plane: You Used to Be Able to Ship Children Parcel Post

It used to be surprisingly affordable to ship babies and children under 50 pounds by US mail. (HT: Phil M.)

Between 1913 and 1920, many Americans sent their children around the country by mail. Provided your child weighed less than 50 lbs, you could simply affix stamps to their clothing and send them off with the postmaster. They’d be whisked across the country in the railway system’s mail compartments and delivered to relatives safe and sound.

Between 1913 and 1915, people used to ship children by US mail (.pdf). Apparently there aren’t any verifiable shipments in the latter half of that decade, before Congress banned the practice.

Have you ever wished you didn’t have to travel with your child (or grandchild)? If you lived in the United States in 1913 or 1914 you had an alternative. Send him or her by mail! You could use the U.S. Parcel Post Service which began on January 1, 1913. Regulations stated that a package could not weigh more than 50 pounds and not much else. The initial regulations included a provision that allowed shipping of live bees and bugs, but no rules allowing or against shipping of children.

Just two weeks after the introduction of Parcel Post, a child was mailed for the first time — one mile from Glen Este, Ohio to Batavia, Ohio — for 15 cents. They added $50 insurance to the shipment.

About two weeks later a family in Pine Hollow, Pennsylvania sent their daughter to Clay Hollow for 45 cents.

According to the Richmond Time-Dispatch, the Postmaster General was asked by a local postmaster for guidance on shipping babies and small children. However, he replied that “in the opinion of the Postmaster General, [babies] do not fall within the category of bees and bugs, the only live things that may be transported by mail, the Postmaster General is apprehensive that he may not be of assistance to his correspondent since no references to human beings is found.”

In February 1914 a 5 year old girl from Graneville, Idaho was shipped 73 miles to Lewiston, Idaho. She weighted in a 48.5 pounds, which was within the Parcel Post 50 pound limit. “She was sent through a train’s mail compartment with 53 cents of stamps attached to her jacket.


    This little girl was sent by mail in 1914

A new postmaster, however, directed that human beings were not permitted to be sent by mail. Nonetheless,

Rural carrier B.H. Knepper in Maryland carried a 14-pound baby from its grandmother’s home near Clear Spring to the mother’s house in Indian Springs, twelve miles away.

A year later, the longest documented trip by a child “mailed” through parcel post was made by six-year-old Edna Neff. She traveled from her mother’s home in Pensacola, FL, to her father’s home in Christainburg, VA.

There is little information on the specifics of Edna’s trip, which was made by railway mail train other than her weight, recorded as just under the 50-pound limit resulting in a trip cost 15 cents in parcel post stamps.

The last verifiable shipments of children by mail occurred in 1915, however Congress banned the practice in 1920.


    Sadly this photo from the Smithsonian is not of an actual baby shipped by mail

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. When I was in college, in the late70s, I learned that anything with proper postage could be mailed. Our favorite thing was to mail pumpkins at halloween/thanksgiving. Just weigh it, affix postage, write address on pumpkin.
    They probably have some crazy homeland security law against it now. After all, who knows what’s REALLY in those gourds?!

  2. My wife’s grandmother just this past month received a small rubber ball through the mail. It was sign by friends as a get well present I think.

  3. @Gary: You and I must have different definitions of the word “confirms”. The Snopes piece says that the factual details in your post are technically true, but are presented in a highly misleading way.

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