Uncle Sam

From New World Encyclopedia
J. M. Flagg's 1917 poster, based on the original British 1914 Lord Kitchener Wants You poster of three years earlier, was used to recruit soldiers for both World War I and World War II. Flagg used a modified version of his own face for Uncle Sam, and veteran Walter Botts provided the pose.

Uncle Sam is a national personification of the United States, with the first usage of the term dating from the War of 1812 and the first illustration dating from 1852. The single most famous portrait of Uncle Sam is the "I WANT YOU" Army recruiting poster from World War I. He is a symbol of the best ideals of the United States. He stands for Freedom, Equality, and Justice and most importantly One Nation, Under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All.

He is often depicted as a serious elderly man with white hair and a goatee, with a strong resemblance to President Abraham Lincoln, and dressed in clothing that recalls the design elements of the flag of the United States—for example, a top hat with red and blue stripes and white stars on a blue band, and red and white trousers. However, a popular theory is that Uncle Sam was named after Samuel Wilson. Wilson was a meat-packer in Troy, New York who supplied rations to the U.S. military during the War of 1812.

Samuel Wilson

Uncle Sam Wilson
Uncle Sam Wilson's grave

Wilson was born in historic Menotomy, now Arlington, Massachusetts, where the Uncle Sam Memorial Statue marks his birthplace. Wilson's parents came from Greenock in Scotland and when Samuel was a boy, his family moved to Mason, New Hampshire, and another monument exists there. Samuel and his brother Ebeneezer moved to Troy in 1789 and went into business there. In 1797, Samuel married Betsey Mann of Mason and brought her back to Troy with him. They lived in a house on Ferry Street and had four children. Samuel Wilson died in 1854 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Troy.

At the time of the War of 1812, Samuel Wilson was a prosperous middle-aged meat-packer in Troy. He obtained a contract to supply beef to the Army in its campaign farther north, and he shipped the meat salted in barrels. The barrels, being government property, were branded "U.S."; the teamsters and soldiers joked that the barrels were the initials of Uncle Sam himself. Later, anything marked with the same initials (as much Army property was) also became linked with Sam Wilson via his coincidental initials.

Origin of the Name

Did you know?
Uncle Sam Wilson of Troy, New York, is recognized as the progenitor of America's National symbol of Uncle Sam

Common folklore holds origins trace back to soldiers stationed in upstate New York, who would receive barrels of meat stamped with the initials U.S. The soldiers jokingly referred to it as the initials of the troops' meat supplier, Samuel Wilson of Troy, New York. The 87th United States Congress adopted the following resolution on September 15, 1961: "Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives that the Congress salutes Uncle Sam Wilson of Troy, New York, as the progenitor of America's National symbol of Uncle Sam."[1]

A monument marks his birthplace in Arlington, Massachusetts, and a monument marks his burial in Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, New York. Another sign marks "The boyhood home of Uncle Sam" outside his second home in Mason, NH. The first use of the term in literature is seen in an 1816 allegorical book, The Adventures of Uncle Sam in Search After His Lost Honor[2] also in reference to the aforementioned Samuel Wilson.

Another theory suggests that Uncle Sam was a creation by Irish immigrants to the U.S. who used the Gaelic acronym, SAM, or Stáit Aontaithe Mheiriceá, which is the translation for United States of America, as a nickname for their new host country. However, the precise origin of the term may never be proven.

Earlier representative figures of the United States included such beings as "Brother Jonathan," used by Punch magazine. These were overtaken by Uncle Sam somewhere around the time of the Civil War. The female personification "Columbia" has seldom been seen since the 1920s.

American Lexicon

In addition to the appearance of Uncle Sam in politics, the character has also appeared as a comic book hero for both Quality and DC Comics. He is presented as the living embodiment of the United States and is the leader of the Freedom Fighters. There was also a short-lived cartoon in the 1980s called "Uncle Sam's Adventures."

Furthermore, Uncle Sam appeared as a horror villain in the eponymously titled 1997 film, Uncle Sam. In this film, a veteran who died during Operation Desert Storm rises from the dead to exact justice upon some teenagers who burned the American Flag on his grave.

Major League Baseball's New York Yankees feature Uncle Sam's hat in their team logo, where it sits atop a bat that forms the vertical line of the "K" in "Yankees." The hat is frequently used in imagery pertaining to the team, and fans often wear Uncle Sam hats to games or other functions.

In music, rock group Grateful Dead featured a skeletal Uncle Sam as one of the band's symbols. Uncle Sam, referred to in their song U.S. Blues, is one of the many elements that compose the band's "American mythology."

In the Superkids comic Making of America, the character, Chuck the Mouse wears an Uncle Sam costume. In the comic, George Washington shows the costume to Betsy Ross and that gives her the idea of the design of the American flag. In the World War II issue Chuck sees an Uncle Sam poster and says "That looks farmiliar" remembering Alamo and his love Sir Benjamin the Great.

In the 2007 film Across the Universe, Uncle Sam comes to life and reaches out of his poster to grab Max, one of the main characters, into the United States Army, while singing the Beatles song I Want You (She's So Heavy).


  1. Debby Masterson, Sam Wilson a.k.a. "Uncle Sam" Rensselaer County, NYGenWeb. Retrieved February 13, 2020.
  2. Frederick Augustus Fidfaddy, The Adventures of Uncle Sam In Search After His Lost Honor (Wentworth Press, 2019, ISBN 978-0469917279)

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Botkin, Benjamin Albert. A Treasury of American Folklore Stories, Ballads, and Traditions of the People. New York: Crown Publishers, 1944. OCLC 231516
  • Fenster, Bob. They Did What!? The Funny, Weird, Wonderful, Outrageous, and Stupid Things Famous People Have Done. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Pub, 2000. ISBN 9780740722189
  • Fidfaddy, Frederick Augustus. The Adventures of Uncle Sam In Search After His Lost Honor. Wentworth Press, 2019. ISBN 978-0469917279
  • Unruh, John David. The Plains Across The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-60. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979. ISBN 9780252006982

External links

All links retrieved May 2, 2023.


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