What happens when you mail stinky cheese?

For years the most popular article on my Web site has been a reprint of Postal Experiments, an article from the Annals of Improbable Research.

stinky cheeseIt seems that researchers, in a fit of scientific hilarity, wanted to see what the United States Postal Service would or would not deliver. So they mailed a carefully selected batch of odd items to see what would happen. This included:

Of course, not all the mailed items were delivered. An unwrapped hammer never arrived. A bottle of unopened spring water dropped into a pickup box was confiscated and consumed by a postal carrier as he worked his route. A can of soup, a lemon, and a bald tire are a few of the other things that didn’t make the journey.

My favorite undelivered item was a helium balloon. The address was written on the balloon with magic marker. There was no postage affixed. When mailing the balloon at a postal station, the researcher “argued strongly that he should be charged a negative postage and refunded the postal fees because the transport airplane would actually be lighter as a result of [the] postal item.” With a smile, the postal worker refused to accept it.

Out of 28 items, 18 were delivered. That’s a delivery rate of 64 percent. Considering the odd nature of most of the items, these numbers are astonishing. Compare this to a zero percent delivery rate cited by the study for countries such as Puru, Turkey, and Egypt and you can’t help but conclude that we’ve got it pretty good here in the United States.

When designing the New York General Post Office at 8th Avenue and 33rd Street, William Mitchell Kendall, an architect with the firm McKim, Mead & White, supplied an inspirational inscription that is familiar to every American:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

It’s not an official motto. But it may as well be. Because despite all our grumbling, groaning, and griping, the United States Postal Service remains one of the most personal and reliable means of delivering things from one place to another at a reasonable cost.

Read the full report on the postal experiments with pictures of some of the mailed items.

Subscribe to FREE Newsletter / Subscribe to blog by RSS or E-mail


3 Responses to “What happens when you mail stinky cheese?”

  1. Sean Star/neoCaptiva marketing on August 9th, 2008 2:11 pm

    If the post office keeps raising mailing rates, they won’t be able to deliver anything.

  2. Tanner Christensen on August 11th, 2008 6:33 pm

    Now THAT is service (or was service anyway). Thanks for the interesting and entertaining – but useless – info! :)

  3. Liza on September 8th, 2012 5:09 pm

    If you E-MAIL stinky cheese… it may be a virus alert!

FREE Newsletter
Get my monthly newsletter and a FREE 16-page Report: 99 Easy Ways to Boost Your Direct Mail Response!
Enter your main e-mail:
Past issues and more info.
Your privacy is guaranteed.