10 Bizarre Things Mailed Through the U.S. Postal System

10 Bizarre Things Mailed Through the U.S. Postal System

It’s always fun to get mail from an old friend or someone you weren’t expecting. Since the beginning of the U.S. Postal Service in 1775, millions, if not billions, of letters and packages have been delivered throughout the world. People utilized the postal service to send letters, cards, gifts, and some unusual items from one place to another. From time to time, we hear stories of unusual items being mailed through courier services, but have you heard of people being mailed or a million dollar diamond? Well, here we have collected several such unique items that have made their way through the postal system.

1. “The Hope Diamond”, a $1 million diamond, was mailed by its owner to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.

The Hope Diamond, mailed, USPS, history
Image: Public Resource/Flickr

Today, our prized possessions are sent through courier services that allow us to track the item in real-time. This provides us with some form of comfort, knowing that our possession is safe and that it arrives at the right place. But, what do you do when you want to send a diamond that’s worth a million dollars? One would assume to have a bullet-proof truck with a vault, which is escorted by a motorcade.

When New York jeweler Harry Winston decided to donate the famous Hope Diamond – all 45.52 carats of it – to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C, he chose the USPS. The diamond has an interesting history. Gem dealer Harry Winston acquired the diamond in 1947 when its previous owner passed away. Until 1958, Winston used the piece of jewelry to attract customers and in 1958, he was convinced by his friends and family members to donate the magnificent piece of art to the famous Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Winston, trusted the Post Office and on November 8, 1958, used the registered, First-Class Mail, to send the item from New York City to the Museum of Natural History. The postage cost him $2.44, plus $142.85 for $1 million worth of insurance. Letter Carrier James G. Todd picked up the package on November 10, drove to the Natural History building, took the elevator to the Gem Room and delivered the package to Leonard Carmichael, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. (source)

2. A business man mailed an entire bank, wall-by-wall through the postal service.

Vernal Bank, Utah, building, facts, mailed
Image: Wikimedia

Believe it or not, the largest thing to be sent through the mail was a building. Prior to 1913, the postal service was unable to carry items weighing more than four pounds. But, on New Year’s Eve of 1913, a new service called Parcel Post was started, that allowed people to send items that weigh up to 20 lbs. In 1914, the weight limit was increased to 50 lbs. At the same time, William H. Coltharp, a young business man, was looking for ways to save money during the construction of a bank.

Coltharp decided to construct a new bank on the corner of a street in Vernal, Utah, but since he was unable to send the whole building through post, he sent it wall by wall. With the help of the Salt Lake Pressed Brick Company, Coltharp mailed 80,000 bricks by carefully packaging the bricks in separate crates; weighing less than the 50-pound weight limit.

Each time, Colthard shipped 40 crates a day with the total shipment weighing up to a ton. While his scheme was successful, the U.S. Postal Service wasn’t fond of it. They changed the rules so that a customer is only able to send 200 lbs. of goods per day. The bank built by Coltharp stands to this day. (source)

3. Henry ‘Box’ Brown, mailed himself to be a free man.

Henry, mailed, USPS, facts
Image: Wikimedia

Born enslaved in Louisa County, Virginia in 1815, Henry Brown was only 15 when he was sent to Richmond to work in a tobacco factory. Later in life, he found the love of his life, married her and had three children. Although they were deprived of their freedom, Henry and his wife Nancy, were happy that they were together. That all changed in 1848, when his wife, who was pregnant with their fourth child, and his children were shipped off to another plantation in North Carolina. He stood there in tears as he watched his wife, children and more than 300 others, walking away from him in chains.

Helpless and mourning his loss, Henry decided that it had gone too far and resolved to escape from slavery. Henry was a member of the First African Baptist Church who regularly sang in the choir. He managed to get the help of antislavery activists in the North, who hatched up a plan to ship him out of the state. First, Henry purposely injured his hand so that he could get a day off work. His fellow mates then put him in a crate that was 3 feet long by 2 feet 8 inches deep by 2 feet wide. Henry took with him a small bottle of water and a few biscuits for the journey.

On March 23, 1849, the crate labeled “dry goods”, took off from Virginia on a 27 hour long journey via a variety of wagons, railroads, steamboats, ferries, and finally, for added safety, a delivery wagon that brought the box to the Philadelphia. Although there was a “This side up”  label, the box was handled roughly; often turned upside down. Finally, the box with Brown inside reached Philadelphia, and was received by William Still, James Miller McKim, Professor C.D. Cleveland, and Lewis Thompson.

When the four anti-slavery activists opened the box, Henry hopped out and said, “How do you do, Gentlemen?” then recited a psalm: “I waited patiently on the Lord and He heard my prayer”. The men then posthumously gave him the name, Henry ‘Box’ Brown, since he was the first man to escape slavery by post. (source)

4. A cat was mailed through a pneumatic tube during the 1800’s.

Pneumatic tubes, cats, mailed
Image: Wikimedia/Flickr

During the 1890’s, an intricate system was built to transfer mail across New York City at a fast pace. The pneumatic tubes, which were located 4 to 6 feet below the city’s surface, ejected enormous canisters full of mail at speeds of 35 miles an hour. Men and women who handled the pneumatic tubes were called the “Rocketeers”. According to the Atlantic, during its peek operation, around 95,000 pieces of mail was transferred throughout the city in just one day.

When the pneumatic tube delivery system was launched in 1897, operators wanted to show the speed as well as the safety of the system. For this purpose, they decided to place a live tortoiseshell cat inside one of the tubes and send it down the mailing system. According to postal worker Howard Wallace Connelly who published an autobiography in 1931;

“How it could live after being ejected at terrific speed from Station P in the Produce Exchange Building, making several turns before reaching Broadway and Park Row, I cannot conceive, but it did. It seemed to be dazed for a minute or two but started to run and was quickly secured and placed in a basket that had been provided for that purpose. A suit of clothes was the third arrival and then came letters, papers, and other ordinary mail matter.”

According to Kenneth Stuart, author of Pneumatic Mail Tubes and Operation of Automatic Railroads, dogs, mice, roosters, guinea pigs, monkeys and a goldfish were also sent down the tube. The system lasted until 1953. (source)

5. A pet chameleon was sent through mail to Florida.

chameleon, facts, animal, mailed
Image: Amy Humphries

Postal service delivers letters, gifts, and sometimes exceptional services. In December 1954, a man named David from Fostoria, Ohio, sent a letter to the postmaster of Orlando, Florida. The letter read:

“Dear Sir,
I am sending my chameleon because I live in Fostoria, Ohio, and it is to cold for him here. Will you please let him loose.

Sincerely yours,
P.S. Could you let me know if he arrives there O.K. Than you very much. I am so worried about him.”

David was attached to his pet chameleon but the climate was not suitable for his beloved pet. He sent the letter to the postmaster, along with the chameleon. On December 7, David received the following note from Orlando’s postmaster: “Dear David, I received your chameleon yesterday and he was immediately released on the post office grounds. Best wishes for a merry Christmas!” (source)

6. Helium-filled balloon, fish, and other bizarre items were mailed to test the limits of postal service.

package, mailed, history, facts
Image: Smithsonian Institution

There are people who love to test the limits of anything and everything. In 2000, a team of social scientists from the science-humor magazine Improbable Research, decided to test the postal service. Their aim was to see how many bizarre items they can ship and what all they can ship. For this, the team included items from six categories: valuable items, sentimental items, unwieldy items, pointless items, suspicious items, and disgusting items.

First, an expensive pair of tennis shoes bound by duct tape was mailed as part of the valuable items. The shoes arrived at its intended destination in seven days. For the sentimental value category, the team sent a molar through the mail. It took 14 days but the item reached its destination, along with a note that read: “Please be advised that such items may not be transported through the mail, but we assumed this to be of sentimental value, and made an exception in your case.”

For the “unwieldy items” category, they sent a ski through the mail; which was delivered 11 days later. For the “Pointless items” category, they sent a coconut, which also found its way back home in 10 days. When it came to the “suspicious items” category, the team sent a street sign, which is something that is not allowed, but the sign made its way back home in 9 days.

Finally, for the “disgusting” category, they sent fish, seaweed and rancid cheese. To their surprise, all the items were delivered within 9 days, along with a warning that said, they would be fined for mail service abuse if they carried on with their experiments. (source)

7. “Human letters” were sent through the mail where a mail man would deliver a person who has a message for them. Suffragettes often used them to send messages.

women, human, letters, mailed
Image: LSE Library

A suffragette was a woman who wanted the right to vote through organized protest. During the 20th century, women protested for equal rights and for the ability to cast votes. They tried their best to get publicity and national attention. In 1909, two suffragettes found a loophole in the postal service. “Human letters” were allowed to travel through the mail system and deliver a message.

Miss Solomon and Miss McLellan wanted to send their message to the prime minister and so, registered themselves as “human letters” to his address. They walked into the postal department, paid the delivery fees and were directed towards the man who was intended to deliver telegrams. One of them held a poster about an upcoming demonstration while the other had the message. Since they were “human letters”, the delivery man had no other choice but to deliver them and receive an acknowledgement.

Although the plan was perfectly carried out, the prime minister’s butler stopped them at the entrance. They were denied entry and were returned to the post office. (source)

8. Pieces of the Titanic.

Titanic, mailed, facts, history
Image: Wikimedia

For the “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition”, over 90 tons of the famed unsinkable ship were sent via mail from Milan, Italy, all the way to Atlanta, Georgia. The exhibit was showcasing bits and pieces of the Titanic wreckage in a public museum, often traveling all over the world to do so. One of the pieces of the wreckage shipped via mail was a 3,000 pound piece of the ship’s hull, along with Leonardo DiCaprio’s resume that was found washed ashore.

Each recovery effort for the Titanic wreckage costs between $1 million and $3 million. Until today, the recovery crew has managed to recover 5,000 objects, many of which are too fragile to be transported. (source)

9. A $350,000 drone was accidentally mailed to a Massachusetts college student.

drone, mailed, USPS, funny
Image: reddit

In 2014, a Massachusetts college student received a package labelled to him by the postal service. According to the anonymous redditor, the box was addressed to him and had apparently been sitting in storage for a while.

“They told me that it was one of the undelivered packages in their office, and asked if I’ve ever had an undelivered package. I said no, but he insisted that it was mine, and said that it was up to me if I want to keep it or not,” he wrote. “Nothing on the outside of the crate said it was government property. I had ordered a weightlifting bench (which I received) and this came with it. Both boxes had labels with my name and address. Though an odd box, I genuinely thought it was parts for the bench I ordered, since I wasn’t expecting a drone.”

The package was in fact mailed from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, where NOAA has an operations center. NOAA uses these drones to study the ocean as well as to monitor hurricanes and other anomalies within nature. When the package was opened, a card in the package read, “USA Federal Property Return to: NOAA Aircraft Operations Center”.

After finding a $350,000 drone inside, the redditor contacted NOAA and returned the package safely. According to NOAA, the drone is capable of flying for more than two hours at a time and has a range of 8 miles. No one knows who is responsible for the error but thankfully, the expensive piece of equipment reached its final destination. (source)

10. May Pierstorff was mailed to visit her grandmother because the cost of a train ticket was too high.

May Pierstorff, mailed, history, facts
Image: Wikimedia/Flickr

Throughout history, people have tried to mail strange things. Certainly none was more surprising than the use of the service to “mail” people. The first case was of Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Beauge from Ohio. When the couple found out that the postal service allowed things to be transported as long as they are under 10 lbs, they mailed their 5 kg (10 lbs) baby to his grandmother’s house at a cost of 15 cents. The couple even had insurance on him for $50.

When the postal service changed the weight limit to 50 lbs, another couple had the same idea. May Pierstorff was a few months shy of being six, and was below the 50 lbs weight limit. On February 19, 1914, the 48 1/2 pound package was “mailed” from Grangeville to Lewiston, Idaho. May’s parents wanted her to visit her grandmother but were reluctant to pay the train fare. Since the postal service had no provisions in the parcel post regulations about sending a person, they stamped her with a 53 cents postage and mailed her.

May traveled the entire distance to Lewiston in the train’s mail compartment and was delivered to her grandmother’s home by the mail clerk on duty, Leonard Mochel. When other parents saw this as an opportunity and started utilizing the service, the postmaster general put an end to the service. (source)

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