Paul N. Carlin, postmaster for the 13-state region around Chicago, will succeed Postmaster General William F. Bolger on Jan. 1, the U.S. Postal Board of Governors announced yesterday.

Carlin, 53, was selected by the independent board despite a last-minute attempt by the White House to have Edward J. Rollins, director of the Reagan-Bush reelection committee, chosen as Bolger's successor.

Board Chairman John R. McKean yesterday acknowledged at a news conference that the White House had asked him to consider Rollins for the $81,800-a-year post. But Rollins was not interviewed by the board, McKean said, and board members were not formally told about the recommendation.

An official familiar with the board said the White House contacted McKean Tuesday afternoon after the board had voted unanimously that morning during a closed meeting to select Carlin.

McKean and Peter E. Voss, who headed the board's five-month search, later discussed the White House recommendation but decided against repolling board members, the official said.

Four of the seven board members, including McKean and Voss, were appointed by President Reagan.

"There was no pressure from the White House," McKean said yesterday.

"The request came after the train had left the station, it is as simple as that," a postal board official said yesterday.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes yesterday said that "the White House did make its views known . . . that we would like Ed Rollins considered for the position of postmaster general. But it is a decision that's obviously been made by the board of governors."

McKean yesterday declined to name the person at the White House who had recommended Rollins, but an administration official said chief of staff James A. Baker III made several calls on Rollins' behalf.

The White House was not aware until Tuesday morning when it read a news report that the board was about to pick a new postmaster general, this official said.

Voss said 35 candidates were considered for Bolger's job, including 12 from outside the postal service. The five candidates who made the "final cut" were career postal employes, McKean said. The board asked "no one about their political affiliation, the only criterion was excellence," he said.

Carlin, who is postmaster for the central region, will become the 66th postmaster general in a line going back to Benjamin Franklin. But he is only the third career employe to be selected. He joined the postal service in 1969 as an assistant postmaster general in charge of congressional relations and was chief agent of President Richard M. Nixon and Postmaster General Winton M. Blount in pushing through the 1970 legislation that reorganized the old Post Office Department into the quasi-public postal service.

Bolger, who had encouraged the board to pick a career employe, will join the Washington public relations firm of Gray and Co. after he retires. He joined the service as a clerk in 1941 and worked his way up to postmaster general, a job he held nearly seven years.

Carlin refused yesterday to discuss changes he will make as postmaster general and declined to discuss specific problems facing the postal service.

"I see the first problem we face as continuing the job we have already done," Carlin said. "We are a materials-handling company and we want to do our job quickly, effectively and in a friendly manner."

McKean said the board was impressed by Carlin's record of efficiency as postmaster of the largest region in the postal system. Since Carlin was named postmaster there in 1981, the region has handled 17 percent more postal volume with a 3 percent increase in total work hours, he said.

Postal unions, which opposed the 1970 reogranization act and have accused several members of the board of adopting an anti-union stance, expressed caution at Carlin's selection.

Most of the postal service's 700,000 employes have been without a union contract since July, when negotiations broke down over postal management's demand for a wage freeze for current employes and pay cuts for new ones. An arbitration board is expected to resolve the dispute in late December .

Carlin said yesterday that he would "work hard to establish a working relationship with unions."