History of Uncle Sam

posted in: Patriotic | 0

Uncle Sam personifies the American government, but where did he originate?

Drawing of Uncle Sam

The first literary reference to Uncle Sam was in the 1816  The Adventures of Uncle Sam, in Search After His Lost Honor by Frederick Augustus Fidfaddy, Esq.

His origins is unknown, but some references believe he may date back to the Revolutionary War.

In the original lyrics to Yankee Doodle {1775} the 13th stanza says

“Old Uncle Sam come there to change

 Some pancakes and some onions,

 For ‘lasses cakes, to carry home

 To give his wife and young ones”

It is unknown where this refers to an actual person or is a metaphor, as the term has become.

By the War of 1812, Uncle Same was appearing as a symbol of national personification, and his popularity grew over that of Columbia and Lady Liberty {not to be confused with the Statue of Liberty}.

One popular legend states Uncle Sam was derived from Samuel Wilson, a meatpacker from Troy, New York who supplied rations for American soldiers during the War of 1812.

Samuel Wilson

“By the 1850s, the names Brother Jonathan and Uncle Sam were being used nearly interchangeably, to the point that images of what had previously been called “Brother Jonathan” were being called “Uncle Sam”. Similarly, the appearance of both personifications varied wildly.”

Uncle Sam did not get his standard appearance as we know it today until the well-known recruitment image which circulated during World War I.  James Montgomery Flagg created this famous image. He based it off of a British recruitment poster.

Flagg’s depiction of Uncle Sam was first revealed on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly on July 6, 1916.  The magazine caption asked  “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” and more than four million copies were circulated.

The term was central in the George M. Cohan song “The Yankee Doodle Boy” which was popular during World War I {written in 1904}.

Both memorials to Uncle Sam, commemorate the life of Samuel Wilson.  One is in his birthplace of Arlington, Massachusetts and the other near his long term residence of Troy, New York. Wilson died on July 31, 1854 at the age of 87.

In 1989, Samuel Wilson’s birthday of September 13th was declared “Uncle Sam Day” by Congress.

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