What does a coconut have to say about the USPS?

Collections Spotlight

October 19, 2020

Eric Stanley, Associate Director and Curator of History

WWII mailed coconut from the Museum's collection. The back reads, "From A. Paroli, C.B.M.U. 511-% F.P.O. San Francisco, CA."

When the Post Office Department formed in 1775, a year before the Declaration of Independence, it became the first governmental department. The whole idea of a national communication system was woven into the fabric of America right from the start. The Museum has a special connection to the Postal Service. Our iconic building is a former Post Office opened in 1910.

Crew of mail carriers and other USPS employees posing in front of the Santa Rosa Post Office, ca 1920s.

The way that the postal service acted as the connective tissue within a community and across the country is sometimes hard to fathom in the age of cell phones, social media and instant communication. Innovations like rural free delivery in 1896 and parcel post, allowing for items heavier than a letter, in 1913, helped bring rural residents into the mainstream. The Postal Service was- and is-vital.

In 1920 the Post Office's busiest day of the year in Santa Rosa was the release of Luther Burbank’s seed catalog which mailed out internationally. The famous horticulturalist’s catalog connected Santa Rosa to the world, partly through the United States Postal Service.

1920 mailing of the Luther Burbank seed catalog.

Or consider the importance of mail during wartime. Members of the armed forces can feel isolated while deployed overseas. It is the postal service, augmented by the Department of Defense, that allows for a tangible connection between military personnel and home.

There are numerous examples of military mail in the Museum’s collection, but perhaps none so striking as a coconut mailed by A. Paroli of Santa Rosa, back to his hometown from an unnamed location. Paroli was a member of the Construction Battalion Maintenace Unit 511 during World War II, which was active on the islands of Efate and Tongabatu in 1943 and ‘44- both islands with coconuts.

WWII mailed coconut from the Museum's collection. The front reads, "To F. Rochetti, Phillips Ave. Santa Rosa, Calif."

The return address indicates that the coconut was sent by naval ship, care of Fleet P.O. in San Francisco. Eventually, the giant seed pod found its way to the Post Office in Santa Rosa, destined for F. Rochetti on Phillips Avenue.

The coconut and the Burbank seed catalog are unusual examples of the importance of the postal service. But the USPS has provided a remarkable service that has stood the test of time, delivering letters, hallmark cards, voting ballots, gifts, and, yes, even coconuts. The US Postal Service has helped keep us united and connected for nearly two and a half centuries.

Mail carrier Ross Fouts emptying a mailbox on 2nd Street, ca 1940.


The Museum of Sonoma County maintains a permanent collection of over 18,000 objects, documenting the region's rich history and celebrating local artists.


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The mission of the Museum of Sonoma County is to engage and inspire our diverse community with art and history exhibitions, collections, and public programs that are inclusive, educational, and relevant.