Forget the stork: Mailmen used to deliver babies as packages

The US Postal Service has become synonymous with the motto: "Neither rain, nor sleet, nor heat, nor gloom of night will keep carriers from their rounds." What makes that especially impressive is that the original quote makes no mention of sleet, and as USPS points out, the Postal Service doesn't actually have a motto. People simply misattributed the words of ancient Greek historian Herodotus. Yet even as times and details change, the core idea behind that quote remains the same.

Long before Amazon reached its prime and when no one knew what brown can do for you, USPS cemented itself as the trusted carrier of America's snail mail and parcels. During the early 1900s, some communities held mail carriers in such high regard that parents gladly handed stamp-covered bundles of joy to the postman for incredibly special deliveries.

Is it a mail or a femail?

Understandably, you might wonder if a baby-delivering postment was secretly just four storks stacked on top of each other. Or if you buy the urban myth about mailmen secretly fathering children on their delivery route, then you might construe this as proof that the mailman did a bunch of "sleeting" with some guy's wife in the gloom of night, making the baby a package that's being returned to the manufacturer. However, as History explains, this wasn't a case of Mr. McFeely getting extra touchy-feely. Rather, these bouncing baby parcels were the actually product of parents testing the relatively vague limits of a delivery service that was in its infancy.

On January 1, 1913, USPS began accepting packages that weighed over four pounds. Some customers went hog wild, mailing eggs, snakes, bricks, and babies which were thankfully not packaged together. According to Smithsonian, a few weeks after the Post Office's Parcel Post opened for business, a couple shipped their 8-month-old son to his grandmother's house a mile away. They insured him for $50, but shipping him only cost 15 cents. In 1914, a four-year-old girl was shipped 73 miles by train. In that particular instance, the mail carrier was biologically related to the package. No, the postman wasn't her father but rather the mother's cousin.

A parent's stamp of approval

Nowadays, this practice sounds like child endangerment, but as USPS historian Jenny Lynch observed, back in those days "mail carriers were trusted servants, and that goes to prove it. There are stories of rural carriers delivering babies and taking [care of the] sick." Even so, the Post Office ultimately decided that there's a limit to how much responsibility you should place in a mailman's hand, and a baby is a huge responsibility.

National Postal Museum curator Nancy Pope identified seven cases of kids being shipped through the mail between 1913 and 1915 — and just to be clear, here "cases" refers to examples, not seven containers full of children. However, even when USPS put a stop to it, people continued to try for several years. The last known attempt to mail a baby took place in 1920, after which parents finally grew out of it.