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Uncle Sam: An American National Symbol

Updated on September 11, 2014

Uncle Sam - The Personification of America

Uncle Sam is a national symbol. He is the personification of America itself. Wearing his finest red, white, and blue suit adorned in elements from the American flag - the stars and the stripes, Uncle Sam is an image of patriotism.

He is present at every patriotic parade, and his image has become so common to Americans that we may never have stopped to consider its origin.

The most common image of Uncle Same is probably the one shown here which appeared on a war poster, but this was not the first appearance of Uncle Sam.

Where did this character come from? Who was Uncle Sam?

Samuel Wilson - Uncle Sam
Samuel Wilson - Uncle Sam | Source

Who Was Uncle Sam?

Samuel Wilson (1766-1854)

Samuel Wilson (1766-1854) was born in Arlington, Massachusetts, then known as Menotomy. He grew up in Mason, New Hampshire, and in 1778 he and his brother Ebeneezer moved to Troy NY, to start a business in the meat-packing industry.

During the War of 1812, Sam Wilson obtained a contract to supply beef to the Army in its campaign further north. He shipped the meat in barrels branded with the initials "U.S." as they were government property. The soldiers and the teamsters took to joking that the initials referred to their "Uncle Sam," and over time, everything marked with "U.S." was linked with Uncle Sam. As much Army property these markings, Uncle Sam became synonymous with the United States itself. All supplies from the United States government were said to come from Uncle Sam.

The Most Familiar Picture of Uncle Sam - J. M. Flagg's 1917 Poster

J. M. Flagg's 1917 poster used to recruit soldiers for both World War I and World War II defined the classic look of Uncle Sam, with a white goatee and dressed in his patriotic suit and top hat. Flagg used himself as the model for the picture's face, so as to save money on a modeling fee, and Veteran Walter Botts stood for the pose.

Flaggs poster was based on the original British Lord Kitchener by Alfred Leeze poster from three years earlier. Its popularity has caused the picture to me altered and parodied hundreds of times since.

America Is My Home - The Story of Uncle Sam - the Myth, the Man and the Acronym

America Is My Home: The Story of Uncle Sam - the Myth, the Man and the Acronym
America Is My Home: The Story of Uncle Sam - the Myth, the Man and the Acronym

This is an excellent book that traces the history of the image of Uncle Sam.

Holton does an excellent job in giving historical perspective to the evolution of Uncle Sam from a person to a cartoon, then a myth and now an icon and an idea.


Flagg's Portrayal of Uncle Sam Resembles both Andrew Jackson and Abe Lincoln

Flagg's Portrayal of Uncle Sam Resembles both Andrew Jackson and Abe Lincoln
Flagg's Portrayal of Uncle Sam Resembles both Andrew Jackson and Abe Lincoln

Uncle Sam Interacts With Others

Being the personification of America, Uncle Sam is often portrayed interacting with personifications of other countries.

Personification of America - The Face of America

Which Personification of America Do You Prefer?

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    • profile image

      Haley Osborne 3 years ago

      Interesting fact I came across about Uncle Sam's picture is that the concept for the poster was not Flagg’s, but based completely on a British propaganda poster featuring the army general Herbert Kitchener (source: It was a surprise for me!

    • bechand profile image

      bechand 5 years ago

      His home is Troy NY - they have a nice statue of him downtown ...

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      Thanks for the interesting info. I never knew the story of U.S. Interesting how it started with the meat supply.

    • Sher Ritchie profile image

      Sher Ritchie 5 years ago

      This is a fantastic lens - I've learnt about the history of Uncle Sam here! I love your Uncle Sam craft resources, books and ebay collectibles! Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      tomaztt 5 years ago

      @religions7: interesting stuff

    • JenOfChicago LM profile image

      JenOfChicago LM 7 years ago

      How interesting, I had no idea of the history of Uncle Sam!

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 7 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      I think it is always fascinating how symbols and stories begin but many times get lost over history. Thanks for bringing good old "Uncle Sam" back to the limelight. Lensrolled to my Constitution lens.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 7 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Great lens. I never knew what the origins were.

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 9 years ago

      Very nice lens. Love those old war posters. 5*, faved and lensrolled to by Statue of Liberty lens.

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 9 years ago

      Interesting lens. I had no idea :)

    • Megal LM profile image

      Megal LM 9 years ago

      Very nice. If you all did not know, they were both involved in very big wars in US history. Both, also very controversial for their times.

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 9 years ago

      Great lens, and timely too.