11 People You Didn't Know Worked for the Post Office

Vecchio, Three Lions/Getty Images
Vecchio, Three Lions/Getty Images

These famous faces once braved rain, sleet, snow, and disgruntled customers as employees of the United States Postal Service.

1. WALT DISNEY

Walt Disney circa 1952.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

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

Painting of Charles Bukowski
Thierry Ehrmann, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

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

William Faulkner in 1939.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

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

Abraham Lincoln
Rischgitz, Getty Images

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

Harry S Truman in 1945.
Keystone, Getty Images

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

Portrait of William McKinley.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

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

First portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Feke.
Robert Feke, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

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

Portrait of Will Hays.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

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

Sherman Hemsley
Frank Micelotta, Getty Images

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

Charles Lindbergh
General Photographic Agency, Getty Images

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

Steve Carell in 2007.
Mark Davis, Getty Images

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.

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

10 Illuminating Facts About A Christmas Story's Leg Lamp

It's a Major Award!
It's a Major Award!
Tim Evanson, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

When A Christmas Story was first released in 1983, it was a sleeper that attracted only a small (but quite cultish) following. Over the past three decades, however, the film has steadily become a holiday staple on par with classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947). And as the film itself has grown in popularity, so has one of its most recognizable props: the leg lamp, that glowing gam otherwise known as “A Major Award.”

1. The A Christmas Story leg lamp was inspired by an old-school soft drink.

Before A Christmas Story was a movie, it was a series of short stories that appeared in two different volumes by the late writer and radio personality Jean Shepherd. The books, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters, were fictionalized accounts of Shepherd’s childhood in Depression-era Indiana (though the movie was filmed mostly in Cleveland, Ohio). Shepherd describes the leg lamp and his father’s obsession with it in a 1966 story titled “My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art.”

According to A Christmas Story House and Museum (yep, there’s an entire museum dedicated to the subject), Shepherd imagined the leg lamp after seeing an illuminated Nehi Soda advertisement, which featured two shapely disembodied legs up to the knee. Shepherd gave cloaked credit to Nehi by writing that the Old Man’s crossword contest was sponsored by an “orange pop” company whose name “was a play on words, involving the lady’s knee.”

When the lamp finally arrives in Shepherd’s essay, he writes, “From ankle to thigh the translucent flesh radiated a vibrant, sensual, luminous orange-yellow-pinkish nimbus of Pagan fire. All it needed was tom-toms and maybe a gong or two. And a tenor singing in a high, quavery, earnest voice: ‘A pretty girl/Is like a melody…’”

2. The A Christmas Story leg lamp was immortalized by production designer Reuben Freed.

Uncertain of just what a leg lamp should look like, A Christmas Story’s production designer Reuben Freed created a quick sketch and showed it to Shepherd, who surprisingly approved it right away. “I immediately thought of something I had seen in my mother’s front room, which was sort of a gold-colored silk lampshade, pleated with fringe around it,” Freed told Cleveland magazine in 2009. “I thought of it immediately and never thought of anything else—just that classic, big ugly shape.”

3. The “original” A Christmas Story leg lamp no longer exists.

Finding an original leg lamp is considered the ultimate feat for A Christmas Story aficionados, Caseen Gaines wrote in A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic. But “the likelihood of finding one is about as great as locating Pee Wee Herman’s bicycle in the basement of the Alamo.” Freed produced three leg lamps for the movie, but none of them survived the production. All three were broken during filming.

4. There’s a simple reason for the typo on the box the A Christmas Story leg lamp is delivered in.

When the leg lamp arrives at Ralphie’s house in the movie, it’s in a crate labeled not only with the infamous “FRAGILE,” but also “HIS END UP.” Though the use of “his” in place of “this” might seem like a subtle joke, the crate was indeed originally labeled “THIS END UP,” but no one had bothered to measure the container before trying to wheel it through the door. Jim Moralevitz, an actor who played one of the leg-lamp delivery guys, told Cleveland’s News-Herald, “I had the pleasure of delivering the major award 30 years ago. Unfortunately, the crate was so wide that it wouldn’t fit through the door. So they called in the carpenters and they took four inches off.”

5. The A Christmas Story leg lamp is big in Cleveland.

Erik Drost, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Because much of A Christmas Story was filmed in Cleveland, the city has embraced the movie as its own (possibly to the resentment of Shepherd’s native Indiana). In 2013, to celebrate the movie’s 30th anniversary, Terminal Tower in Cleveland’s Public Square was turned into a giant leg lamp, complete with a red garter.

Terminal Tower can be seen, sans leg-lamp accoutrements, in A Christmas Story’s first few opening shots, looming over Higbee’s department store, where Ralphie first spots the coveted Red Ryder BB gun.

6. The A Christmas Story leg lamp is also a big deal in Long Island.

In 2005, the Reichert family, owners of the Northport Hardware Store in Northport, Long Island, got a goofy idea after attending the mayor’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony. They browsed through the store’s generous stock of leg lamps, called over some of the guys from the bar next door, and ceremoniously lit one of the lamps in the store’s picture window. Then they all cheered.

Somehow the Reicherts’s lighting of the leg lamp caught on and it has become an annual Northport tradition, though their store no longer hosts the festivities.

7. The A Christmas Story leg lamp is a hit on Halloween.

The leg lamp has become so popular, you can now purchase ready-made Halloween costumes in its likeness. In 2012, Josh Sundquist, a paralympian, motivational speaker, and author who lost his leg to cancer when he was 9 years old, won Halloween when he decided to make his own leg lamp costume. He even shaved his leg for authenticity.

8. The A Christmas Story leg lamp has been a star on the stage.

In 2012, A Christmas Story: The Musical opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. The leg lamp was celebrated with a kick line—only the Broadway chorus kicked up not only their own legs, but also fishnet-clad leg lamps.

The year before, at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, California, the Troubadour Theater Company performed A Christmas Westside Story, a mashup of A Christmas Story and the epic tale of the Sharks and the Jets. What song did the leg lamp get to sing? None other than “I Feel Pretty.”

9. The A Christmas Story leg lamp is a hot commodity.

Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

According to a post-Christmas press release that highlighted Amazon’s seasonal sales in 2012, the online retail giant boasted: “If you stacked every Christmas Story Leg Lamp purchased by Amazon customers this holiday season, the height would reach the top of Mt. Everest.”

10. The A Christmas Story leg lamp gave rise to a hilarious catchphrase.

“Fra-gee-lay. It must be Italian!” has graced everything from baby onesies to novelty shirts to kitschy home decor.