Writing Out Loud: Fragile – Handle with Care

By George Stahl

Today, in 2018, you can buy just about anything you could possibly want on the internet. Not just that, but you can have any number of those items shipped right to your doorstep, usually for a small fee, but in some cases, they can even be delivered for free. Wonderful!

Think back to when we were kids. Do you by chance remember the product, usually on the backs of comic books, called Sea Monkeys? Of course, you do. Well, how did you get those little shrimp-like, human faced rascals from the comic book to your doorstep? Good old U.S. Mail. Yes, you sent in the order (no emails) then about 3 weeks later…you got mail. A dozen dehydrated monkeys for a 4-cent stamp.

Live animals were shipped via the U.S. Postal Service. Nothing suspicious about that. These little just-add-water sea creatures were not the only animals being shipped around the country or even the world back then. In fact, transporting animals around has been a practice for centuries. In the 20th Century though, it started to be government controlled. When the ATA (Animal Transportation Association) was formed in 1976, thousands of animals were being sent to all parts of the globe. So, for 42 years, the mailing of a spider has been regulated.

Today is a real milestone day in the history of the U.S. Post Office. Today marks the anniversary putting an end to a practice sending a certain piece of mail that every mailman dreaded to find in his bag when he came into work in the morning. No, as much as they may have disliked them, it was not a tarantula, but it was almost enough for him to forget that infamous pledge every mail carrier lives by. It’s the Hippocratic oath of the Post Office. You know the one that makes what mail carriers do so sacred. “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Maybe something about delivering babies should had been added to that creed. Yes, babies, and we’re not using the term delivered in the same way as doctors do, but in the way a mailman does. June 13, 1920, was the last time that a customer was able to send a real, live, human baby to someone else via the U.S. Postal Service. Maybe that’s where the warning ‘Fragile: Handle with Care’ was born.

On January 1, 1913, the post office began a new service called ‘parcel post.’ Larger packages could be sent via mail and this created a whole new way merchants could ship their goods. It was an ancient counterpart to Amazon and e-Bay. Suddenly, people realized that this was also a cheaper way to send their children travelling to grandma’s house across the state or further. It beat out trains, boats and Wells Fargo. For only 53 cents, if your kid weighed in at less than 50 pounds, he or she could be stamped and delivered along with your letters. For 7 years, as distasteful and alarming as it may sound, this was a common occurrence, and mailmen took on the added title of ‘babysitter.’ Think about it, special bags were created for the carriers to lug these kids around and safely dispatch them on whoever’s doorstep they were addressed to. That had to make it a lot harder for the carriers to outrun the dog that chased them down the street, or for them to keep that kid dry in the rain. Imagine, you are grandma, you are going about your businesses, cleaning, cooking, darning grandpa’s socks, your bell rings, and the postman hands you your mail, then your grandkid. Pop! Surprise!

Do you think anyone wrote a return to sender note? Or what if you sent your kid, and didn’t know grandma moved? Imagine that poor soul on the other end. What about the mail sorters in the post offices? Do you think there were special slots for the kids? How about the phrase, “It must have gotten lost in the mail”? No wonder the practice only lasted 7 years. If it had survived though, and all of the kinks were worked out, let’s see, 53 cents would probably be about 50 dollars today, and an airline ticket is at least 200 dollars. I don’t know? Is it a close call?

Ask your mail carrier next time you see him or her. “What do you think? Could we bring it back?”