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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The "What Ever Happened To ... "Nor Heat Nor Gloom Of NIght: Part II - The Parcel Post" Story

It was an ordinary day.  January 1, 1913 and the Post Office's Parcel Post was officially a part of United States history.  The Parcel Post was one of the most overlooked innovations of the 20th Century. After the demise of the Pony Express on October 24, 1861, many private delivery companies flourished, but it was the Parcel Post that allowed millions of Americans greater access to mail-order shopping which we take for granted in today's society.  The establishment of the Parcel Post is said to be contributed to the National Grange Association, since they were concerned with the farmer's welfare and lobbied Congress for the free delivery of mail to rural households.  
An early U.S. Mail truck with a horse drawn vehicle behind it.
Rural resi- dents com- prised the ma- jority of our young coun- try's popu- lation so the Gra- nge played a big part in getting parcel post started, much to the chagrin of the private express companies that delivered most of the goods before Parcel Post began.  The national economy began to grow with opportunities for both farmers and merchants alike.  And, an immediate demand for packaging material led to another national business for merchants.  Rural Americans could now purchase foodstuffs, medicines, dry goods and other commodities that they had no mail access to before.   The first mail-order house, Montgomery Ward, began in 1872 with a one-page catalog.  
Another three-wheeled mail cart.  Would love to see
something like this on the streets today.
 As the catalog grew in size, it became one of the most important books in the homes of farmers, second only to the Bible.  It was aptly named "The Homestead- ers Bible" or the "Wish Book".  Sears, Roebuck and Company followed in 1893 and at one time boasted it was selling four suits and a watch every minute, a revolver every two minutes and a buggy every ten minutes.  Then, in 1918, a large fleet of trucks began delivering shipments.  It was at this time in history that farmers began to ship eggs and other produce directly to the customer.  
On February 19, 1914, a four-year-old girl named
Charlotte May Pierstorff was mailed via train from
her home in Grangeville, Idaho to her grandparents'
house 73 miles away.  Her story has become so
legendary that it was made into a children's book,
"Mailing May."
 Eggs quickly became a mainstay of the parcel post.  One report said that six eggs were the first objects sent by truck from St. Louis, Missouri to Edwards- ville, Illinois.  They were mailed at noon and seven hours later returned to St. Louis in the form of a cake!  A large variety of goods was mailed through the years.  Small animals that didn't require water while in transit, such as baby chicks, were a popular item to mail.  
I was lucky, or should I say resourseful enough, to find
 this old photo showing a Lancaster, Pennsylvania
US Mail truck delivering produce to NY City.
 And, prior to World War I, even children were mailed by parcel post to relatives in distant locations.  In 1914 May Pierstroff, a four-year-old, was shipped parcel post from Grangeville, Idaho to her grandparents in another part of the state for $.53, the going rate for chickens.  Wasn't long before the Post Office Department forbid sending humans by Parcel Post.  Two years later an entire bank was dismantled and shipped from Salt Lake City, Utah to Vernal, California.  Parcels carrying items such as bricks weighing close to 50 pounds were sent, one ton at a time.  
There is still one route left in the United States where mail
travels by mule.  Supai, Arizona, is inside the Grand Canyon
and only accessible by foot, pack animal, or helicopter.  For
mail service, the most cost-efficient of these three choices
is the "pack animal," so mules make the 8-mile trip.
 Due to this, the Post- master Gener- al de- cried that a single shipper could post no more than 200 pounds a day.  In 1948 air parcel post service was established and the United States began exchanging parcels with other countries.  Wasn't long after that private companies began once again competing with the U.S. Postal Service for domestic and international delivery.  Today's most popular private delivery services are Federal Express and United Parcel Service.  Hard to believe that the mail that comes through your door slot or is stuffed in your mailbox goes way back to the years when the Pony Express delivered mail and packages by horseback.  Funny how it's still delivered by horsepower!  That is until recently when mail delivery was canceled due to a few inches of snow in Lancaster County, PA.  Oh well, I guess the mailmen need a vacation day also.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.   

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