Federal Times Blogs
Federal employees have taken a lot of heat over the last few years. They are called overpaid and underworked. The fight over their pay and benefits has been well documented. Politicians have called for closing entire agencies, while others push bills to end the civil service .
We did this list a few years ago, but I thought it was long due for an upgrade. So here are some now very famous people who at one point would have been considered federal employees.
7. Wanda Sykes
This one is from reader Drew Fletcher, who pointed out that before she became a successful professional comedian and actress she was a contracting specialist at the National Security Agency for about five years. According to a 2010 article in the Washingtonian Magazine, she had a high level clearance as well.
Wanda Sykes has made the lists of top comedians for years and has been voted one of the funniest comedians by polls of her peers. She has appeared in movies, worked as a voice actor and has been on television – both on her own shows and in others. She most recently portrayed Senator Rosalyn Dupeche in the Amazon original TV series Alpha House.
6. Julia Child
Julia Child was a cooking inspiration to millions of people through her television shows and her books – and perhaps one of the most famous chefs past or present. Child is first on the list because her federal career may be the most well-known.
During World War II she was turned down by the Women’s Army Corps and the U.S. Navy WAVES because she was too tall so instead she worked for the Office of Strategic Services – the precursor to the CIA. She rose through the ranks and traveled the world, from Sri Lanka to China and I am sure did lots of other cool stuff that we will never know about.
It was after the war, when she and her husband were living in France, did she attend culinary school and walk down the path that would make her a household name.
Note: I did not add Julia Child to the list because her federal career as a spy is very well known. Or at least not a big secret anymore.
5. Ina Garten
You might know her as the Barefoot Contessa, a world famous Chef and TV personality. But before she decided to wow us with her self-taught culinary ability, Ina Garten was a nuclear energy budget analyst at the Office of Management and Budget under both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Now she makes amazing meals and travels the world educating us on culinary issues.
4. Abraham Lincoln
Yes, yes, I know he was a member of Congress and one of our most famous presidents. But did you also know he was the Postmaster in New Salem, Ill, for almost three years? He became postmaster on May 7, 1833 and lost the position when the post office was relocated May 30, 1836. How did Lincoln get the gig? Well the Park Service says that its uncertain, but might have had something to do with the conduct of the former postmaster.
The women of New Salem were irritated when Samuel Hill, the former postmaster, spent more time serving the men whisky instead of taking care of postal duties. As postmaster, Lincoln was always willing to please customers and would go out of his way to do so.
- Abraham Lincoln: Come for the salvation of the country and pick up your mail on the way out.
3. Walt Whitman
All right. Walt Whitman was a famous poet, and many of us read at least some of his work in high school. In fact, there are at least a few schools named after him. But once again, it seems like Whitman had to make ends meet by working for the federal government.
According to the National Archives:
Whitman lived in Washington, DC, for a decade from 1863-1873… To support himself and to help fund his work aiding soldiers, Whitman secured low-level government work–functioning mainly as a clerk, spending much of his time as a scribe or copyist. He worked in the Army Paymaster’s office, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Attorney General’s office.
2. Walt Disney
Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck and others. Walt Disney created a gigantic media empire that spans the gambit of amusement parks, new stations and even ESPN. He won dozens of Oscars (animated shorts category) and his empire was so powerful, it literally spun off other famous people. Just the Mickey Mouse Club alone helped give rise to Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
But before all that, Walt Disney was a substitute mail carrier in Chicago, Ill.
I would use a picture here, but for copyright purposes I will let you imagine a Disney picture of some sort.
1. Dr. Seuss
Ok. So we are down to No. 1, and who can possibly top everyone else on the list? Well, Theodor Seuss Geisel at least comes close. He brought us the Cat in the Hat and The Lorax, and dozens more. His work is so well known that you can call someone a Grinch and they will know exactly what you mean. His works have been translated into more than 15 languages and have sold more than 200 million copies.
They are still making movies based off of his work. (Not all of them great).
But Dr. Seuss was employed by the Treasury Department in 1942 to make illustrations for the war effort and to help sell war bonds. His federal career was brief, however: He joined the Army in 1943.
But if anyone else knows of more secret federal careers of more famous people, just add them into the comments.
Drew Fletcher Says:
June 4th, 2014 at 8:07 am
Comedian Wanda Sykes was an NSA Analyst.
June 4th, 2014 at 8:35 am
David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz did a stint with the USPS.
June 4th, 2014 at 9:13 am
Harvey Pekar. American underground comic book writer, music critic and media personality, best known for his autobiographical American Splendor comic series (and crticially-acclaimed film of same name in 2010). Unlike the other mentions who moved on to other careers, most notably, he was a file clerk at Cleveland’s Veteran’s Administration Hospital and held this job even after becoming famous, refusing all promotions until he finally retired in 2001.
Pat M Says:
June 9th, 2014 at 5:16 pm
William Faulkner, renowned writer (Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, etc.) was Postmaster of Oxford, MS. Fired for falling asleep on the job!