Singer-songwriter and former letter carrier John Prine

Singer-songwriter and former letter carrier John Prine Anthony Pidgeon/Getty Images

Why This Federal Agency Is a Breeding Ground for Celebrities

One huge entity has served as a launching pad for the careers of a lot of famous people. 

Over the years, several people have been employed at federal agencies who then went on to fame and fortune in acting, music and other fields. 

Walt Whitman, for example, worked at several agencies, including the Army Paymaster's Office, the Treasury Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Clara Barton was a clerk at the U.S. Patent Office. Julia Child worked for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, during World War II. Before Wanda Sykes became a comedian and actor, she worked at that hotbed of humor, the National Security Agency. Celebrity chef Ina "Barefoot Contessa" Garten got her start at the Office of Management and Budget.

Then there are those who achieved celebrity status and then began working for the federal government. These include Shirley Temple Black, Ronald Reagan, Kal Penn and Donald Trump. 

But when it comes to launching celebrities, no agency can match the United States Postal Service. The USPS historian has compiled a lengthy list of people who worked at the agency before achieving celebrity status as actors, writers, singers, politicians and more. They include:

  • Steve Carell: Actor, comedian. Rural letter carrier, Littleton, Mass., 1985
  • Bing Crosby: Singer, actor. Clerk, Spokane, Wash.,1921
  • Walt Disney: Film producer, theme park creator. Substitute carrier, Chicago, and Christmas temporary, Kansas City, Mo., 1918, 1919
  • William Faulkner: Novelist. Postmaster, University, Miss., 1921-1924
  • Benjamin Franklin: Statesman, inventor, printer. Postmaster General, 1775-1776
  • Sherman Hemsley: Actor. Clerk, Philadelphia and New York, 1960s
  • Conrad Hilton: Hotel magnate. Postmaster, San Antonio, N.M., 1910-1911
  • Brittany Howard: Singer, Alabama Shakes. Rural carrier assistant, Athens, Ala., 2011
  • Rock Hudson: Actor. Substitute letter carrier, Winnetka, Ill., circa 1947
  • Abraham Lincoln: U.S. President. Postmaster, New Salem, Ill., 1833-1836
  • Charles Lindbergh: Aviator. Airmail pilot, 1926-1927
  • Samuel Morse: Inventor. Superintendent, Telegraph Unit, 1845-1846
  • John Prine: Singer, songwriter. Letter carrier, Maywood, Ill., 1964-1969
  • Knute Rockne: Football coach. Clerk, Chicago, 1907-1910
  • Adlai Stevenson: U.S. Vice President. First assistant postmaster general, 1885-1889
  • Harry Truman: U.S. President. Postmaster, Grandview, Mo., 1914-1915
  • Noah Webster: Lexicographer. Special agent, 1793
  • Richard Wright: Author. Substitute clerk, Chicago, 1929-1932

Why is the Postal Service such a breeding ground for celebrities? First of all, it employs a lot of people. Mathematically, the odds are that of the millions of people who have worked for the agency over the years, some would go on to fame and fortune in the public eye. 

There’s also a second factor: The nature of many postal jobs allows employees to occupy their minds with creative thoughts and still get their work done. John Prine, who was convinced by his brother to join the Postal Service after he graduated high school (“Look, they pay good, they got good benefits,” was the sales pitch) dreamed up some of his classic songs while working as a letter carrier on a long route in a Chicago suburb. “I’d just go off into a dream world and stay out there and deliver the mail,” Prine told Rolling Stone

That approach came with a cost: Prine was a self-admitted poor performer on the postal beat. While other carriers finished their appointed rounds by 3:30 pm, he was often out delivering mail after dark.  

Steve Carell also sometimes took a long time to finish his route when he worked briefly as a letter carrier in Massachusetts. But that’s because he would leave handwritten responses to children who had written to Santa Claus. It would “take me until 9 or 10 at night to deliver the mail because I was doing this stupid thing,” he told Steven Colbert.