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When People Sent Their Children Through the Mail

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 31, 2023 3:06 am

When People Sent Their Children Through the Mail

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 31, 2023 3:06 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, taking an interesting twist on our “Rule of Law” series, Christopher Warren shares the history of the U.S. Postal Service and a time when people mailed their children… And in one instance, an entire bank.

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It really touches on every aspect of American history. There's not an event, a person in American history that hasn't been affected really by mail delivery over the years. Now, during the 19th century, through the 19th century, deliveries of packages was not part of the postal department's purpose. Really, they would only deliver things that were four pounds or less. So there was no real package delivery from the United States government. If you wanted to mail packages anywhere, you had to use private carriers, companies whose rates were constantly in flux.

There was no regulation on how much sending a package from one location to another, how much that would cost. It was relatively expensive, so mainly it was used by businesses sending things back and forth. Other nations, especially in Western Europe, had instituted government-funded package delivery.

And the United States was kind of late to the game in this regard. But by the 1880s, 1890s, this was becoming a big topic of conversation. Lots of people wanted this postal delivery to be upgraded to more than four pounds. It was controversial in Congress because many of the senators in Congress were big investors in these private carrier companies. So they didn't want the competition from the government because the government would regulate the rates. I just thought they had regulated the rates on regular mail delivery.

So it was a contentious battle throughout the 1890s. They were used to getting their mail delivered to them, and they began advocating and complaining that they should also have more regulated, cheaper ability to send larger packages through the mail. Eventually, the private companies who would deliver these packages, they lost kind of their advocates in Congress. So in 1913, parcel post delivery was begun by the Postal Service.

Originally, it was, like I said, up to four pounds. Once this parcel postal service delivery was instituted, you could then mail things up to 11 pounds. This was hugely successful. In the first six months alone of this parcel post delivery, over 300 million parcels were delivered. In six months, 300 million. That's a ton. Because it was so successful, the Postal Department increased the size of packages, the weight of packages that can be delivered.

It went from 11 pounds to 20 pounds, and eventually it went to 50 pounds. So with this new delivery system, the regulations were kind of, they weren't all spelled out. The Postal Department had not anticipated some of the issues, types of things people wanted to send through the mail. You name it, people tried to mail it, including their children.

This was not an endemic problem, but did occur on a few specific instances. Probably the most well-known instance of a child being mailed occurred on February 19, 1914. The little girl's name was Mae Pierstorf, who was almost six years old at the time, and she was actually mailed from her parents' home in Grangeville, Idaho, to her grandparents' house about 73 miles away, for just 53 cents worth of stamps, which were actually pinned on her coat. Her parents didn't want to pay for the more expensive train ticket to send their child to her grandparents, so instead they used the postal service. Now, she wasn't the only child that was sent through the post. The first one was a child, an unnamed boy, we don't know his name, but he was mailed from Batavia, Ohio, and he was carried by the rural free delivery carrier, his name was Vernon Leto, to the little boy's grandparents again. But that was only about a mile away, and they knew the postal carrier, they trusted the postal carrier. It cost them 15 cents, and the parents even insured the package, their son, for $50, just in case.

It happened a couple more times. Probably the longest trip that ever occurred from a child being mailed was from a six-year-old named Edna Neff. Edna Neff, she traveled from her mother's home in Pensacola, Florida, to her father's home in Christianburg, Virginia, which is a little over 700 miles, went by railway mail train.

It cost 15 cents in parcel post stamps, which is much cheaper than a train ticket going from Florida to Virginia. And of course, this all had to be under the 50-pound limit. The first one I talked about, she was 47 and a half pounds. Most of these children were young, they were small. 1915 was really the last year that we have any evidence that children were sent through the mail. The Postmaster General in 1914 had actually seen that this was a problem, a continuing problem. Some of the local Postmasters were writing back to Washington, D.C. for guidance on what they should do with this, but they looked in the regulations, and there was nothing in the regulations that prohibited mailing children. So very quickly, the Postmaster General changed these regulations in 1914, saying that no human being could be therefore sent through the mail. But it still occurred a couple more times in 1915, and it was either Postmasters ignoring the rules, because remember, they were very far away from Washington, D.C., so they didn't always feel like they had to obey every single rule every single time. September 1915 is the last known instance of a child being mailed.

Three-year-old Maud Smith, she went on her parcel post journey, and again, she traveled from her grandparents' home to her mother's home in Jackson, Kentucky. A local newspaper actually recorded this incident, and they also recorded that it was being investigated by postal authorities. Remember, it was against regulations in 1914, and this happened in 1915, so once those investigations started on this type of activity, they really ended, and that was the end of sending your children through the mail for cheaper than a train ticket.

We're pretty sure that because of these investigations, no Postmasters from that point forward thought it was worth the risk, even if they could get a little notoriety or celebrity status. So there's a lot of great pictures out there of children in mail bags, children with stamps on them being supposedly sent through the mail, but most of those pictures were staged just to kind of highlight and have a little fun with the process of mailing children. It only happened maybe ten times total that we know of, and most of the time, they knew this rural mailman trusted him.

Small towns, rural areas, everybody knows everybody. He would hand-deliver the child to the parents, so it wasn't as scary as we might think of, like actually sending your child and just trusting in the Postal Service. They knew these mail carriers, they trusted these mail carriers.

It's still dangerous, of course, we wouldn't think about doing that today, but it was a lot cheaper than getting a train ticket. We're all, of course, familiar with the mail and postal delivery, and it's been part of everyone's life for forever. We just don't even think about it much anymore, so it's the institution of a new service or an upgraded service like parcel delivery that we take for granted. We don't think anything about our Amazon packages coming from the post office today. But back then, it was brand new to people, and it's interesting to see how they wanted to use this service, what they used it for.

It was brand new to them, and they had no guidance or regulation. There was a man in New York City who bought a roast beef downtown New York City. He mailed it to his wife.

It arrived in the evening post, and she cooked it, and by the time he got home from work, the roast beef dinner was ready. One of the more interesting items that was sent through the mail was an entire bank, brick by brick. So in Vernal, Utah, the Bank of Vernal, Utah, was wanting to build a new bank. The closest place they could get bricks for the bank was about 127 miles away in Salt Lake City. Now it would have cost about four times the amount to have those bricks transported via railroad and then horse and carriage to the site, this construction site. They needed 40 tons of bricks, so they sent them in 50-pound packets. So day after day, all these 50-pound packets of bricks would show up at the Salt Lake City post office, and they would have to deliver those to Vernal, Utah.

And it was successful, and the Vernal bank is still there today. Again, the Postmaster General saw this was a problem. The purpose of the postal department was not to send massive construction supplies, so he came out with a regulation saying you had a, back then, a maximum of 200 pounds could be sent per day from any one individual.

So that stopped this kind of activity. But, you know, it was a great work-around for a very intelligent businessperson or construction person. Instead of paying four times the amount, sending it by freight, I'm going to send it by 50-pound packets at a time, and it got there and they constructed their bank. It's interesting to see right when the service was instituted, people were shipping things that today we would maybe even hesitate to ship. Metal egg crates. Farmers could send eggs, you know, a dozen eggs, to purchasers through the mail as well. And today, you know, people get their groceries through the mail, but it's always kind of touch-and-go with the eggs. But even back then, they were trying to send these things. Butter boxes, so you could send sticks of butter to people who were purchasing them, keep it cool, and keep it protected through the mail as well. Bees. Queen bees and beehives were being sent through the mail right from day one.

Special boxes were built so they couldn't escape, but you could keep food inside so they stay alive. There's all kinds of items that were being sent right from the get-go that we would think might be a little odd today, or just maybe to take for granted. Why would you send your child through the mail? Who would think of that? Somebody did.

People used this service, like I said, 300 million in the first six months. Anything and everything they were trying to ship to people. And a special thanks to Madison for the production on the piece, and a special thanks to Christopher Warren, and he's at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. When you're in D.C., take a visit.

The Smithsonian franchises are all around the city, straight out to the Air and Space Museum. Another rule of law story, this one not as serious as civil asset forfeiture or eminent domain or rule of law as it relates to property and intellectual property rights, but I think we could all agree it's probably a good idea legally not to be able to mail our children. The story of America's Post Office, some stories about it, and some fun ones and some odd ones, here on Our American Stories. Chumba

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-31 05:05:31 / 2023-05-31 05:11:26 / 6

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