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Baby Post - Maternity Mail Memories and Meanings

Updated on June 27, 2014
Mel Carriere profile image

Although many are mystified by his mysterious moniker, Mel Carriere is a San Diego mailman who writes about the mail, among other things.

Your loquacious letter carrier Mel makes his last, and most important delivery of the day.
Your loquacious letter carrier Mel makes his last, and most important delivery of the day. | Source

Baby Mailing was an Infant Industry

People send all kinds of crazy stuff through the US Mail. As a mailman, there are several times I've gone to pick up Express Mail in the morning and come back with a truckload of live chickens. The chickens cluck and scratch nervously in the back of the vehicle as I transport them back to the post office for delivery. To calm the birds down I try singing to my fowl cargo, but this only makes them more nervous. Mel's music does not soothe the savage breast, I've discovered.

I've also delivered bumpers and truck wheels to which a very thin layer of bubble wrap has been applied to make them qualify as "mail." I've hauled crickets and bees. At least twice I've even delivered human remains, of course in the form of ashes. These come in via registered mail that requires a signature and I wonder what happens if nobody is home to sign and the package sits unclaimed for days on the post office shelf. Does the spirit of the deceased begin to haunt the post office as he or she waits impatiently to be picked up by loved ones who are taking their sweet time about taking their dearly departed home? Some letter carriers are really superstitious about delivering the cremated remains of human beings and will refuse to do so. My view is that any spirits clinging to the ashes are welcome to ride along as long as they don't distract me while I'm driving, so what the heck? No annoying "Are we there yet?" questions from dead passengers, please. So far the dead passengers have behaved themselves.

There was a time in this country, however, when it was more than dead humans that were transported by the US mail. After the beginning of the Parcel Post service in 1913, a few people read a really broad interpretation into the new shipping rules and took advantage of it by mailing live humans. Postage and even insurance were attached to baby bundles and up the road to grandma's house many an infant was shipped.

Many of these tales of baby post are of the urban legend variety and there is some debate about how many children were really hauled around in a satchel by letter carriers. There is no doubt, however, that in the baby-post era between 1913 to 1915 people trusted the postal service enough to put their children into the care of postal employees for their journeys, some as short as mile up the road, some crossing multiple state lines. The United States Postal Service was one of the country's most trusted public institutions during the height of the "baby post" craze and remains so, despite Congressional efforts to destroy the organization that was good enough to deliver children and is plenty of good enough to deliver America's non-human mail.

If it fits it ships!

While it is doubtful whether babies were ever shipped in priority mail boxes, many infants were mailed across country in the care of postal clerks on freight cars.
While it is doubtful whether babies were ever shipped in priority mail boxes, many infants were mailed across country in the care of postal clerks on freight cars. | Source

A Brief History of Baby-Post

The Smithsonian Institution has documented several legitimate examples of the baby mailing craze that that took place in the United States after the birth of Parcel Post in January, 1913. The first infant to be delivered by the US Mail was a boy in Batavia, Ohio, who for 15 cents was carried via Rural Free Delivery to his grandparent's house a mile down the road. The tyke was insured for $50. Later that same month a little girl in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania was hauled to a relative's house for the princely, or rather princessly sum of 45 cents. Quite naturally, the ladies commanded a higher shipping rate.

Then in May, 1914, six year old May Pierstorff of Grangeville, Idaho caught the attention of America and the Postmaster General when she was shipped 73 miles for 53 cents. This incident prompted Postmaster General Burleson to issue directions to the nation's postmasters that barred humans from the mail.

In spite of the Postmaster's restrictions, the benefits of baby-post were way too enticing for financially strapped parents who couldn't afford the cost of conventional travel, and many postal officials were willing to look the other way. In 1915 Edna Neff was mailed on a freight car from Pensacola, Florida to Christainburg, Virginia for 15 cents. Edna weighed in under the 50 pound Parcel Post limit, so no additional freight charges were applied to her trip and her parents saved a few stamps. This is the longest known delivery made via baby-post.

In September of 1915 baby-post made its final ride when Maud Smith of Jackson, Kentucky was shipped home from her grandmother's house. A local newspaper caught wind of the trip and an investigation was launched that spelled the end for babies my mail.

It should be noted that none of these children were dumped callously into mailbags for shipping. No kids were run through a cancellation machine or dropped onto a conveyor belt to be sorted alongside Uncle John's golf clubs or Grandma's care package cookies. Not a single infant was bubble-wrapped or packed with Styrofoam peanuts into a cardboard container. Today's well known "it if fits it ships" flat rate box was not in existence at the time to ship babies in, or who knows? In reality, all of these children were placed into the care of known and trusted postal employees who accompanied them on a freight car or actually walked them to their destinations if they were only going a short distance down the highway.

Babies left in mailboxes could raise certain tricky ethical and legal issues, but could a return to baby-post help turn around an ailing Postal Service?
Babies left in mailboxes could raise certain tricky ethical and legal issues, but could a return to baby-post help turn around an ailing Postal Service? | Source

Can Baby-Post Make a Comeback?

Although the history of babies by mail was blessedly brief, today's Postal Service might want to reexamine this business practice. To solve its current revenue crisis, a return to baby-post could be a way for the Postal Service to generate much needed cash to balance the bottom line, but even in the planning stages the idea generates several problematic logistical scenarios. For instance:

  • If insufficient postage is affixed to a baby with no return address and the recipient refuses to pay the postage due, does the infant go to the mail recovery unit or directly to the social services office?
  • What happens if no one answers at the addressee's home and the carrier has to return the baby to the post office? Does a clerk have to remain in the post office around the clock to feed the baby and change his or her diapers?
  • While in transit, will the letter carrier charged with delivering the baby be given extra time for baby-related duties such as bottle feeding, diaper changing, and lullaby singing, or will the supervisor curtly inform the carrier to "deliver the mail, take care of the kid, and make sure you're back in 8 hours." I can envision many grievances being filed with the Union over this one.
  • If baby has a "biological incident" while in transit, do postal regulations require that a hazmat team be dispatched to deal with the clean up?
  • What about insurance? Will the baby's mailing insurance rate be determined strictly on a per-ounce basis, or will more subjective criteria be applied? For instance, will cute babies be insured for a hefty fee while the less photogenic, "face only a Mother could love" tykes are insured for mere pennies? This could cause some controversy.

These are issues the stork never had to worry about, as far as I know. I think it's better to leave baby delivery in the hands of the professionals.

Delivering babies by mail may be okay for some, but getting the infant to help with letter-carrier work certainly touches on some sticky child labor issues.
Delivering babies by mail may be okay for some, but getting the infant to help with letter-carrier work certainly touches on some sticky child labor issues. | Source

What Baby-Post meant then, and what it means now

I am treating the subject of baby-post a little more tongue in cheek than you might think appropriate, but there are some serious implications that arise from an examination of the fleeting phenomena that need to be looked at in light of what they meant in 1913 and what they mean now.

Since the dawn of US history the Postal Service has been one of this country's most trusted institutions. American citizens have always enjoyed the tremendous benefit of affordable mail delivery and the reliable, consistent service of a letter carrier that has been on the same route for years and knows the people in his or her neighborhoods intimately.

Letter carriers are part of America's extended family. I was just reading a Facebook post this morning by a letter carrier friend in Indiana who endured the brutal "snowpocalypse" this past winter. What helped her get through it, both physically and psychologically, was the love and care of her customers, who when the weather was at its worst invited her inside to get out of the cold and gave her hot drinks to warm her frozen blood.

Postal customers pour out their love on their letter carriers like this because they know they will be loved back. Letter carriers are constantly being given accolades for saving a senior citizen that has broken a hip and fallen on the kitchen floor, or for smelling something burning on a stove and alerting the snoozing customer who left it just in time to save the house from bursting into flame, or for saving a child from a marauding pit bull on the loose. Letter carriers do the little extras for their customers that family members would be expected to do, so is it surprising that postal customers view their letter carriers as family, and would feel completely confident about leaving their children in the mailman's care?

More than anything else, the phenomena of Baby-Post exemplifies America's love affair with the postal service. Getting rid of the "service" in the name and breaking up the USPS into indifferent business entities that care more about pennies saved than people served would be a serious mistake. Your post office belongs to you; don't hand it over to the agents of pure corporate greed.

Okay, so maybe we're not shipping babies by mail train anymore, but don't let corrupt politicians derail America's constitutionally mandated Postal Service. Baby-post is no longer a physical reality, but its spirit lives on.

Should the United States Postal Service be Privatized?

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    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      These are superb Hubs about the American institution of mail delivery. I'm going to forward them to my brother in law who just retired from the Postal Service.

      Excellent!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you for your very flattering compliment! I enjoy capturing the life and times of letter carriers. Thanks for dropping in!

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 3 years ago

      Mel - this was interesting to say the least. I truly love your tongue-in-cheek style.

      We all know how unpleasant it can be to fly to our vacation destinations these days. Starting a vacation with a strip-search by TSA agents can get us off to a bad start followed by flight delays, missed connections, etc.

      Would it be possible to have "vacation mail" where we could just mail ourselves to our destination of choice?

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      I suppose it is possible in theory @Old Poolman and it certainly makes sense in light of all the factors you have mentioned, but at this point I don't think they are making a flat rate box that is big enough to ship most people. Thanks for dropping in!

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 3 years ago

      Your right Mel, most people weigh over 70 pounds so even if the box was large enough they would have to raise the weight limit also.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      There is a great book inside of you waiting to crawl out...and I look forward to it.

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      WOW! I didn't know babies could be sent through the post office back then. Thanks for the interesting glimpse of postal service history.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      You always have something new in mind and this one tops all your the rest of your hubs.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you @billybuc. I'm going to download yours from Amazon this weekend and start digging into it here on my phone. Thanks for the nice words.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      It was a bit of a WOW for me too @sheilamyers. I was looking for an image to use for a post on my blog that was about crybaby co-workers. I stumbled across the photo you see at the top and it introduced me to the strange world of babies by mail. Thanks for dropping in!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      @DDE thank you for the nice words. It was a spur of the moment idea but I had fun writing it.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Great read Mel. I had no idea about this but found it totally interesting. Nice to know the postman was so trusted that people would send their babies with them. Voted up.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      @Jodah I had no idea about it either until very recently. It was a very short lived phenomenon, but it certainly demonstrates how the world has changed. In spite of my rah rah hyperbole, I don't honestly think anyone would trust their tykes to the US mail these days. Thanks for dropping in!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is another very interesting hub, Mel. I had no idea that babies were ever mailed! Although transporting babies by mail sounds like a funny idea, it's wonderful to realize how mail carriers were trusted and respected at the time. Thank you for a very enjoyable and informative article.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      @AliciaC this was a surprise to me as well, as I've said, and reflects a time of innocence and security in the US that I am afraid we will never go back to, quite sadly. Thanks for dropping in!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I loved the historical info, Mel. I didn't know about baby post. Awesome and up for your wonderful information done as only you can do it.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Deb, I appreciate the nice words. Baby Post is only a footnote in history, so I decided to elaborate upon it a bit. Thank you for dropping by!

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Wow! Never heard of such a thing as posting a baby through a postal system. And the photo of a baby that was left in mailbox is too shocking to imagine. I've learned so much through reading hub posts. Thanks for sharing this interesting post.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Nadine May. I have learned quite a bit reading hubs. Thanks for dropping in!

    • LadyFiddler profile image

      Joanna Chandler 3 years ago from On planet Earth

      WAW! What an interesting mailman you are lol, what in the world are you allowed to carry in the postal van/truck its ridiculous "BEES, BABIES, Chicken why don't they hire a truck driver to deliver their chickens. Because the scent from the chickens will sure have the van smelling shitty also the mails.

      Baby by mail is even crazier why would i entrust my child with a mail man or woman. I think the parents and all are nuts i do not care how CHEAP it was or is to deliver a kid by mail, its ABSURD!

      Yeah i would have felt spooky carrying the dead remains, because some souls are really haunted and creepy even in their ashes ha ha ha

      Mel you sure do got some sticky stuff on your hands but seems like you enjoy it lol. I do not envy you at all.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you @LadyFiddler. Every day is an adventure. I appreciate you dropping in to contribute with your great comment that made me smile.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 2 years ago from Hudson, FL

      My goodness, I can't imagine sending a baby through the mail! This is the opposite extreme of the booster seat laws. Hahah! How sad that the chickens didn't appreciate your singing :)

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Yeah back then you could just throw the kid in a box and ship him off to Grandma. It's not so easy now. Thanks for dropping by!

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 2 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I love your wry comments and enjoyed this Hub tremendously. I have an uncle who is a retired mailman, and he always had a bunch of funny stories to tell. But he never told about the "mailing the children" part. I'm glad our postal service is no longer expected to handle mailed children. Great historical stuff (which I love) plus the humor makes this page a winner for reading!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Nancy I appreciate it. Your uncle would have had to be really old to remember the baby post days. Interestingly enough you are not the first person to comment on my posts who had a mailman uncle. Everyone has one, including my nieces and nephews. Please support your post office. Thanks for reading.

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