5 Things You Didn't Know About Uncle Sam

On March 13 1852, the familiar image of "Uncle Sam" debuted as a cartoon character in New York, and the image became so popular it was adopted as a symbol of the United States. Here are 5 things you didn’t know about this popular symbol of our country...


The Original Uncle Sam May Have Been a Meat Packer # The recruitment poster designed by James Flagg featured a modification of his own face. The pose is credited to Walter Botts, who was a veteran. Image credit: WikiCommons A man in New York named Samuel Wilson joined the Army in 1781, and his duties included taking care of cattle and slaughtering and packaging the meat that was sent to the troops. He and his brother went into the meatpacking business and supplied the meat during the War of 1812, stamping the packages with a U.S. for the United States. Soldiers knew and liked Samuel Wilson and joked that the U.S. stamped on the packages stood for Uncle Sam instead of the United States, so the name was born.

An Earlier Figure Was Used Before the Revolutionary War # This World War I recruitment poster featured Columbia in her patriotic gown and cap, which represented liberty and freedom. Image credit: WikiCommons Before the Revolutionary war, a figure called Brother Jonathan was used to refer to Yankees or New Englanders, and he was considered by the British to be someone who was ill-spoken and ill-mannered. British loyalists used the term when referring to patriots in a derogatory manner after the Revolution. A series of cartoons featuring Brother Jonathan and John Bull, who represented England, showed the American character as unpretentious and scrappy while the English character appeared as old-world and pompous.


The Female Figure of Columbia Columbia first appeared in a poem written by a black slave named Phillis Wheatley in 1776. She was depicted as a woman and often wore a dress with the stars and stripes, a liberty cap or feathers to represent Native Americans. Columbia was a popular representation of the United States through the 1800s until Uncle Sam caught the eye of the public.

Uncle Sam’s Most Popular Image Came From a Recruitment Poster In 1917, illustrator James Montgomery Flagg drew an image of Uncle Sam to use as a recruitment poster for World War I, which showed Uncle Sam pointing and saying “I want YOU for U.S. Army.” This had been highly successful on a British poster that pictured Lord Kitchener in a similar pose. About four million copies were printed for the war effort, and the poster was updated using the illustrator’s face for World War II.

Sam Wilson Was Officially Recognized as Uncle Sam The U.S. Congress, in 1961, officially recognized the New York meatpacker Samuel Wilson as the origination of Uncle Sam. Wilson died in 1854 in Troy, New York, and is buried next Betsey Mann Wilson, his wife of many years.