Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mail Delivery Babies

The recent FB photo showing the cute "babies" poking their heads out of mail bags peaked my interest to learn more about this piece of mail delivery history.  A quick Google search led me to the following US Government info site:

Sure enough, it happened in 1913, the same year the US Post Office began delivering packages. In 1914 Postal regulations changed to prohibit the mail delivery of humans, but the practice didn’t stop completely until 1915.

The first boy to be delivered by mail went only a mile to his grandmother’s house.  It cost 15 cents, but he was insured for $50.  Other children reportedly went for a dime up to 53 cents. One six year old girl traveled by mail train and reports show she was just under the 50 pound limit. The 721 mile trip from Florida to Virginia cost 15 cents.
Usually the child mail deliveries were made by a trusted family friend and there were regulations created for this “special delivery” service.  According to the US Gov site, there were “no heartbreaking cases of a baby being stamped “Return to Sender” on record.”

When I first saw these photos, my historical fiction writing mind leapt into high gear imagining what stories could be told from the child or parent’s point of view.  And “what if” question made for both intrigue and drama. What if the baby were delivered to the wrong place?  What if no one were there to receive the parcel?

Then my “mom” persona kicked in with thoughts about trust and safety. One FB friend pointed out that we have our own version of sending children today when we turn them over to airline companies for long flights across the country. We wouldn’t do that unless we had faith that they would arrive at their destinations safely, would we?

Still, a baby looking innocently out from a mail carrier’s bag pulls on the heart strings in a different way.  It opens up a vast number of questions about the history of the times and the life style of the people.  Most of the child deliveries were rural and the distance of travel less than 50 miles. Fifty miles was a lot farther in 1913 than it is today. In a mail bag, that might have been an eternity for a small child. 

However, it might also be that in those days a willingness to trust others was more prevalent. Today newscasts and other media fuel our fears and eclipse our faith in the good will of others.

The landscape and life-style of the past are gone, but we can incorporate lessons of simplicity into our daily lives. Mail bag or jet, we continue to be human. We can choose trust over fear and faith over skepticism. And we still need to rely on others.  

For the complete story about this unique piece of history read “Very Special Deliveries” by Nancy Pope, Historian and Curator of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum