11 People You Didn't Know Worked for the Post Office
These famous faces once braved rain, sleet, snow, and disgruntled customers as employees of the United States Postal Service.
1. WALT DISNEY
In the summer of 1918—when he was just 16—the man behind Mickey Mouse, Disneyland, and all those iconic feature films was a postal carrier in his native Chicago. Disney was originally rejected for the job due to his young age, but the crafty teen went home, put on a disguise and makeup to appear older, and got the job when he returned. He even worked two shifts, operating as a letter carrier during the day and a route collector at night.
Disney left the job to go to Europe as a Red Cross ambulance driver (again lying about his age), and when he returned home a year later, he took his first art job. But he was laid off after the holiday rush, so he returned to the post office. It was at this point in his life that he resolved to go into business for himself as a commercial artist.
2. CHARLES BUKOWSKI
The famous author worked at the post office for over a decade. He spent three years in the early '50s as a substitute mail carrier, and most of the '60s as a mail clerk. In 1969, he accepted an offer from Black Sparrow Press and quit the post office to dedicate his time to writing. He finished his first novel, Post Office, a month later; it was about a barfly who works as a substitute mail carrier, quits, and later becomes a mail clerk.
He wrote of his career change, "I have one of two choices—stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve."
3. WILLIAM FAULKNER
He may be one of the great American writers, but he was also one of the worst postmasters of his time. Starting in the spring of 1922, Faulkner worked as the postmaster at the University of Mississippi. He found the job tedious, boring, and uninspiring—an attitude he didn't even try to hide while at work.
Most of his time as a postmaster was spent playing cards, writing poems, or drinking. He closed the post office whenever he felt like leaving and opened it when he felt like showing up. He was notorious for losing letters, even throwing mail away, and not being at the desk when customers came to buy stamps—and he'd give them an attitude like they were interrupting his work by asking him to do his job.
When a postal inspector came to investigate the complaints against Faulkner in 1924, the budding author agreed to resign, but only after writing a resignation letter that read, "As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp."
Ironically, despite his wretched record as a postal employee, the USPS released a 22 cent stamp commemorating William Faulkner in 1987.
4. ABRAHAM LINCOLN
On the other end of the postal spectrum, Abraham Lincoln was Honest Abe long before he became president. In fact, when the 24-year-old became postmaster in New Salem, Illinois, he was known for personally delivering mail to people's houses when they failed to pick it up at the post office. He kept the job for three years, until the post office was closed.
When the office closed, there was a remaining cash balance of $16 or so, which Lincoln took with him when he closed up shop. Though he was in financial straits at the time, Lincoln didn't touch a cent of the money until a postal agent came to collect the balance.
5. HARRY S. TRUMAN
Technically, Lincoln wasn't the only president who was a postmaster in his youth. Harry S. Truman was the official postmaster of Grandview, Missouri, but he held the title in name only [PDF]. He used the position to help a widow, Ella Hall, who actually did the daily duties and took home the $530 annual salary.
6. WILLIAM MCKINLEY
McKinley was yet another president who worked at the post office, but he wasn't a postmaster. Instead, he was a mail clerk near Poland, Ohio while he helped his family pay off its debts before he found a job teaching at a local school.
7. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
The first Postmaster General of the Continental Congress, Benjamin Franklin was originally the British postmaster of the colonies, which helped him streamline communications when it came time to rebel against the English. His position also helped him recognize that some ships could travel between England and the U.S. faster than others, which is what helped him chart and name the Gulf Stream current.
There are stories that Franklin gave all of the money he earned as postmaster of the newly formed U.S. to soldiers who were wounded in the Revolution, but there doesn't seem to be any conclusive proof of this. In part because of his role in the post office history, Benjamin Franklin has since been featured on U.S. postage more than any other person with the exception of George Washington.
8. WILL HAYS
You probably recognize his name from the Hays Code, but before Will Hays started cracking down on obscenity as the first president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, he served as the Postmaster General of the U.S. He was awarded the position after serving as the manager for Warren G. Harding's successful presidential campaign.
9. SHERMAN HEMSLEY
Before he was movin' on up on The Jeffersons, Sherman Hemsley was a postal clerk, first working in Philadelphia after he got out of the Air Force, and then in New York after he moved to the big city hoping to become an actor. He kept working the day shift in the post office while taking small acting jobs at night until he got a big enough break to pay the bills.
10. CHARLES LINDBERGH
Before he became world-famous, Charles Lindbergh spent much of his flight time working as an airmail pilot. In a time when flying was hardly considered a safe, reliable means of transport, he achieved 99 percent airmail delivery efficiency, despite lacking proper equipment and runways. His famous Spirit of St. Louis was only used to carry mail once, and that happened to be on his final trip in the plane between Washington and Mexico City. After this flight, the plane was retired and sent to the Smithsonian.
11. STEVE CARELL
Before moving to Chicago to pursue acting, funnyman Steve Carell worked a rural mail route in Littleton, Massachusetts. "It was pre-Internet, so lots of big, thick, heavy catalogues,” Carell said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. He was admittedly terrible at it—he had to drive his own car along the route, and said he later found undelivered mail underneath the seat. “That was the hardest job I ever had,” he told 60 Minutes.
A version of this story first ran in 2014.