The Most Bizarre Direct Mail Tests in History

I’ve seen some pretty weird tests in my time, but nothing as over-the-top strange as the one reported in the Annals of Improbable Research (Volume 6, Issue 4). Researchers wanted to test the delivery limits of the USPS. So they mailed a bunch of outlandish items to see what would happen.

Here are a few of the results:

• Twenty-dollar bill.
Sealed in clear plastic to tempt the greedy. Delivered untouched in four days.

• Pair of expensive tennis shoes. Unwrapped. Simply strapped together with duct tape. Delivered in seven days with laces neatly and tightly knotted.

• Rose. No box. No wrapping. Just a rose with postage and address card tied to the stem. Beat up but delivered in three days with the rosebud intact.

• Screaming toy. A monkey-in-the-box addressed in big letters to LITTLE JOHNNIE. Upon shaking, the toy shouted, “Let me out of here! Help! Let me out of here!” Delivered in six days.

Fresh green coconut. No wrapping. Just addressed, stamped and dropped in the mail from Hawaii. Delivered in 10 days.

Box of sand. Mailed in transparent plastic box. Opened, inspected, taped shut and delivered in seven days.

Brick. Wrapped in plain brown paper. Pulverized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, but all pieces delivered in a plastic bag in 16 days.

Large wheel of rancid cheese.
Mailed in a cardboard box through which the cheese oozed and emitted a truly noxious odor. Box placed in plastic bag and delivered in eight days.

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 test involved a helium balloon. The researcher wrote the address directly on the balloon with magic marker. 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, the USPS delivered 18. That’s a delivery rate of 64 percent. Considering the odd nature of the items, these numbers are astonishing. Compare this to a zero percent delivery rate cited by the study for countries such as Peru, Turkey and Egypt.

When designing the New York General Post Office at 8th Ave. and 33rd St., 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.

In light of this bizarre test, maybe it should have been:

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

If you want a real laugh, read the full report on these weird postal experiments, including photos of the items mailed.

Dean Rieck is one of today’s top direct mail copywriters and has created sales and generated leads for more than 250 companies, including Intuit, Rodale, Sprint, and American Express. For a free copy of his white paper, Getting Response in a Down Economy: 4 Key Principles to Boost Your Direct Mail Profits in Today’s Difficult Market, visit