Uncle Sam

April 1, 2021

September 7, 1813

Congress officially recognized the namesake of “Uncle Sam.”

Was Uncle Sam Real?

  • Although best known from the U.S. Army’s “I Want You” posters of World War I, the origins of Uncle Sam date back to the War of 1812.
  • New York meat packer Samuel Wilson fed hungry troops. His meat barrels of beef & pork were stamped with a “U.S.” but soldiers called it “Uncle Sam’s.”
  • Sep 7, 1961: Congress recognized Wilson as “the progenitor of America’s national symbol of Uncle Sam.”

How You See Him:

  • Over the years, many artists shaped Uncle Sam’s look, which began as a “congenial, folksy, older man.”
  • Cartoonist Thomas Nast popularized him with white beard and stars & stripes suit.
  • Artist James Montgomery Flagg’s 1917 “I Want You For The U.S. Army” depiction showed him stern and muscular. The famous poster was used during both World War I and World War II.

Thomas Nast

  • German-born American raised in New York City during mid-19th century.
  • Known as one of the first political cartoonists.
  • Popularized the donkey as the symbol for the Democratic Party and the elephant as the symbol for the Republican Party.
  • Also credited with creating the modern image of Santa Claus.

Why does Uncle Sam remain popular? Here’s one theory: “Uncle Sam is rolling up his sleeves. He’s going to go pound on somebody.” Does that fit your image of America? Read more on why Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty both compete for the leading role for American symbolism.

The story behind the symbol and how one of the creators continues to influence American politics.

Uncle Sam: The man and the meme READ HERE

A new nickname for the U.S. emerges: ‘Uncle Sam,’ Sept. 7, 1813 READ HERE

Why Democrats are donkeys and Republicans are elephants READ HERE

Hail, Miss Columbia: Once a U.S. symbol, she’s lost out to Uncle Sam, Lady Liberty READ HERE

Miss Columbia is “a literary name for the United States,” says Ellen Berg, a historian who researched the symbol’s origins and popularity at the Library of Congress during a fellowship last fall with the Swann Foundation.She also wanted to know why it has faded from use.At the height of the American Revolution, Miss Columbia, “came to represent the spirit of the country and American ideals,” says Dr. Berg, an affiliate assistant professor at the University of Maryland.
By the 1890s, women dressed up as Miss Columbia for patriotic events.”
In 1900, a girl’s ideal would be to be Miss Columbia in the Fourth of July Parade. Married women would do that, too.”
In 1900, the San Francisco Call published a story illustrated with seven pictures that showed wanna-be Miss Columbias how to dress and behave.
In various World War I posters “Columbia pleaded, beseeched, and implored viewers to save food, send their sons to war and buy bonds.”After the war, Columbia remained a beloved symbol but Americans’ relationship with her had changed, Dr. Berg theorizes.”Americans may have felt disenchanted about the demands that Columbia placed on them at such great cost,” she says.
Edward J. Lordan, author of “Politics, Ink: How American Editorial Cartoonists Skewer Politicians, From King George III to George Dubya,” has a different theory about the symbol’s demise.He believes Miss Columbia was better suited for the young American Colonies.”Each symbol represents some aspect of America. When you have a new, fledgling, virginal country, then having a Miss Columbia would make sense,” says Dr. Lordan, a professor at West Chester University of Pennsylvania,Columbia is virtuous and protective. As an example, he said there’s a famous cartoon of her saying to Abraham Lincoln, “Give me back my boys.” At the end of World War II, America emerged as a super power. That’s why Uncle Sam remains popular as a symbol, Dr. Lordan said, because it matches our vision of the country. “When we become the toughest guy out there, then we would go with somebody like Uncle Sam,” he says. “Uncle Sam is rolling up his sleeves. He’s going to go pound on somebody. All of these images only work if they resonate with the audience.”

by Jenna Lee,