Direct Mail Journal

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Going My Way?

Person Holding his freedom

There is an article in the Zairmail archives that explores the limits of what can be shipped through the mail. It is a truly entertaining piece that never seems to go out of style. We also stumbled into this list of 21 Things You’d Be Surprised You Can Actually Mail. The list includes a wide array of unexpected items, including a lime, an inflated beach ball, and a rose in a bottle, among others.

This made us wonder, is it possible to ship other things, like a human for example, through the mail. We might be able to include food and water right in the package to sustain the occupant – even when service slows down over the holidays. Other types of human needs might still remain a problem. Still, that didn’t stop us from looking.

The Smithsonian published a piece that highlights the launch of parcel post, for packages of less than 15 pounds, in 1913. The service started on January 1, in part to take advantage of the rapidly growing demand for mail order services to rural communities. Almost immediately people began shipping their children to relatives. An 11 pound parcel costs just 15 cents at that time – insurance, if any, was extra. Postmaster General, Albert Burleson, quickly put an end to that practice by June.

It turns out that this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many curious (and humorous) stories about people being sent though the mail. Over the next few months, we will share several of these stories in this column.

The Shipping Journey of Henry “Box” Brown

Henry Box Brown was a slave who successfully sent himself to freedom in 1849. Brown hid in a wooden crate and arranged to be sent to slavery abolitionists in Philadelphia. Brown was a slave in a tobacco factory when he devised the perfect plan of escape to the freedom. However, brown was forced to leave behind his enslaved family.


James C. A. Smith, a free black man, along with Samuel Smith (aka Samuel the Shoemaker), aided Brown in his ingenious plan. Brown escaped in a wooden box just 3’ (w) x 3’ (l) x 2’ (h)wide, which was labeled “dry goods” on the side. Brown took a small amount of water and several biscuits with him. The wooden box had a single hole for air. The shipping box was nailed shut and then wrapped with straps.

Henry "Box" Brown Being rescued from his box.

The Escape

Brown’s trip to freedom lasted 27 hours during which, the box that held Brown was transported by wagon, railroad, steamboat, and ferry. Despite instructions on the box that said, “handle with care” and “this side up”, Brown was bounced around and placed upside down multiple times. Brown continued to stay still and went undetected.

After Browns impressive escape, he earned the moniker Henry “Box” Brown and spent years on the abolitionist speaker circuit, first in the northeast US, and then in England.

We have offer many other interesting posts this blog here are some:

  1. Conjure Some Postcard Magic With These Tips!
  2. Howl For Your USPS Postage Treats Now!

Zairmail ( is the fastest and easiest way to send (real) postal mail. Give us a call anytime at 888.898.0066, we would be happy to help with your direct mail needs.



About the Author

Wilson Zehr is a Direct Mail Industry Expert, Direct Marketing Specialist, and CEO of Cendix (, the leading provider of Web-to-print solutions that increase sales both online and offline. He is also the founder of Zairmail (, the company responsible for many "industry firsts" in direct mail.


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