The man behind the iconic image and fascinating nickname for the United States government is recognized on Uncle Sam Day, born on September 13, 1766.
Sam Wilson, a meatpacker from New York, supplied barrels of meat to soldiers during the war of 1812. To identify the meat for shipment, Wilson prominently stamped “U.S.” on the barrels. It wasn’t long before the soldiers dubbed the grub a delivery from Uncle Sam. As such nicknames tend to do, its popularity spread.
The first illustration of Uncle Sam is unlike the one we know today. Published by Harper’s Weekly in 1861, the young government representative (a starred bandana on his head and wearing a striped vest) is depicted dividing up Virginia like a butcher. The image of Uncle Sam would take many forms over the years.
Credit is given to German-born illustrator and cartoonist Thomas Nast for developing the long-legged Uncle Sam with the starred top hat and striped pants who is more like the one we know today. The Harper’s Weekly political cartoonist took on many issues with his Uncle Sam character including Boss Tweed, Union recruitment, and Reconstruction.
During the modern era, Uncle Sam obtained some color. The United States Army awarded Montgomery Flagg with the artwork for the familiar portrait used in the “I Want You For The U.S. Army” campaign during World War I. It first appeared on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly, an illustrated literary and news magazine.
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President George W. Bush proclaimed Uncle Sam Day to be September 13, 1989, in honor of the anniversary of the birth of Samuel Wilson. It coincided with the bicentennial celebration of the City of Troy, New York where Wilson lived and worked. The City of Try requested the designation of the President.
On September 7, 1961, through concurrent resolutions Congress officially named Uncle Sam a permanent symbol of American strength and idealism.
On June 28, 2010, Discovery News posted the video: Uncle Sam is a national icon in the United States, but where did he come from? Was he a real person? James Williams takes a look into the past to find the answer.