When American Parcel Post services launched on January 1, 1913, citizens suddenly found themselves with a revelatory new way of getting objects from point A to point B. And back in those days, "objects" often meant parcels in the form of unlikely entities like live chickens, bizarre medical supplies (such as cadavers), and even flesh-and-blood tots themselves. Yes, children were sent through the mail.
The history of mailing babies is whimsical rather than shocking, however: kids were always chaperoned to their destinations, not sealed up in boxes with breathing holes. In fact, most people thought of the process in terms of purely economical advantage: it was far cheaper to send one's child through the post than it was to buy him or her a train ticket-proper. Eventually, the practice was deemed inappropriate, and it gradually fell out of fashion, but not before some folks took full advantage of posting their progeny.
The first baby to be delivered via mail was one James Beagle, an eight month old who, at just under 11 pounds, was still technically under the weight limit that the postal service was imposing at the time. The child was mailed to his grandparents, who only lived a few miles away; so, fortunately for the tot, the journey was not arduous. (Indeed, sources claim that he slept most of the way there). According to the Smithsonian, James cost a mere 15 cents in postage – a "discount rate" if ever there was one. However, his parents also "insured" him for $50.00, which was no small charge back then. James's journey created a sensation, and it established a child mailing trend that would continue for several years to come.
As postal-weight restrictions shifted and relaxed, older children began to be mailed, as well. (Though they technically weren't being sent as packages proper, so weight wasn't really an issue). In 1914, a four year old named Charlotte May Pierstorff was "delivered" via train to her grandparents, who lived about 74 miles away. The little girl's journey was widely publicized, and it charmed the public ... so much so that it inspired a now-legendary children's book, Mailing May.
As the Smithsonian put it:
"Luckily, little May wasn’t unceremoniously shoved into a canvas sack along with the other packages. As it turns out, she was accompanied on her trip by her mother’s cousin, who worked as a clerk for the railway mail service ... it’s likely that his influence (and his willingness to chaperone his young cousin) is what convinced local officials to send the little girl along with the mail."
If you can believe it, children were by no means the most bizarre packages being ushered through the postal system back in the day. As the Washington Post explains,
"When the parcel service began, all kinds of cargo showed up in the mail stream, including coffins, eggs, and dogs."
There were also a host of other questionable items being dispatched, like taxidermied animals, deadly and inadequately contained medical specimens (like the Smallpox virus), dead fish, and even buildings themselves, which were mailed to their destinations in crushingly dense blocks of bricks.
The longest child-postal journey was undertaken by one Edna Neff of Pensacola, FL, a 6 year old who created a stir when she was "mailed" to her father in Christianburg, VA, which was 720 miles away. However, Neff's trip – primarily because of its exhausting length and distance – was met with criticism rather than whimsical amusement, and it ended up being a major factor in child-mailing becoming illegal in 1915.