Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam (initials U.S.) is a common national personification of the American government or the United States in general that, according to legend, came into use during the War of 1812 and was supposedly named for Samuel Wilson. The actual origin is by a legend.[3] Since the early 19th century, Uncle Sam has been a popular symbol of the US government in American culture and a manifestation of patriotic emotion.[4] While the figure of Uncle Sam represents specifically the government, Columbia represents the United States as a nation.

The first reference to Uncle Sam in formal literature (as distinct from newspapers) was in the 1816 allegorical book The Adventures of Uncle Sam, in Search After His Lost Honor by Frederick Augustus Fidfaddy, Esq.[5] Other possible references date to the American Revolutionary War: an Uncle Sam is mentioned as early as 1775, in the original lyrics of "Yankee Doodle",[6] though it is not clear whether this reference is to Uncle Sam as a metaphor for the United States, or to an actual person named Sam. The lyrics as a whole celebrate the military efforts of the young nation in besieging the British at Boston. The 13th stanza is:

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.[7]

J. M. Flagg's 1917 poster was based on the original British Lord Kitchener poster of three years earlier. It 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,[1] and veteran Walter Botts provided the pose.[2]

Earlier personifications


The earliest known personification of the United States was as a woman named Columbia, who first appeared in 1738 (pre-USA) and sometimes was associated with another female personification, Lady Liberty. With the American Revolutionary War came Brother Jonathan, a male personification, and Uncle Sam finally appeared after the War of 1812.[8] Columbia appeared with either Brother Jonathan or Uncle Sam, but her use declined as a national personification in favor of Liberty, and she was effectively abandoned once she became the mascot of Columbia Pictures in the 1920s.

According to an article in the 1893 The Lutheran Witness, Uncle Sam was simply another name for Brother Jonathan:

When we meet him in politics we call him Uncle Sam; when we meet him in society we call him Brother Jonathan. Here of late Uncle Sam alias Brother Jonathan has been doing a powerful lot of complaining, hardly doing anything else. [sic][9]

A March 24, 1810 journal entry by Isaac Mayo states:

weighed anchor stood down the harbour, passed Sandy Hook, where there are two light-houses, and put to sea, first and second day out most deadly seasick, oh could I have got on shore in the hight [sic] of it, I swear that uncle Sam, as they call him, would certainly forever have lost the services of at least one sailor.[10]


Uncle Sam Memorial Statue, Arlington, MA - Samuel Wilson
Samuel Wilson Memorial in Arlington, Massachusetts
Uncle Sam Wilson
Photograph of Samuel Wilson of Troy, New York
Uncle Sam's Thanksgiving Dinner (November 1869), by Thomas Nast
Uncle Sam and Columbia in an 1869 cartoon by Thomas Nast
Uncle Sam and His "Oyster Sandwiches"
Uncle Sam often personified the United States in political cartoons, such as this one in 1897 about the U.S. annexation of Hawaii
Uncle Sam needs that extra shovelful.jpeg
Poster by the United States Fuel Administration during World War One: "Uncle Sam needs that extra shovelful"

The precise origin of the Uncle Sam character is unclear, but a popular legend is that the name "Uncle Sam" was derived from Samuel Wilson, a meatpacker from Troy, New York who supplied rations for American soldiers during the War of 1812. There was a requirement at the time for contractors to stamp their name and where the rations came from onto the food they were sending. Wilson's packages were labeled "E.A – US." When someone asked what that stood for, a co-worker jokingly said, "Elbert Anderson [the contractor] and Uncle Sam," referring to Wilson, though the "US" actually stood for United States.[11] Doubts have been raised as to the authenticity of this story, as the claim did not appear in print until 1842.[12] Additionally, the earliest known mention definitely referring to the metaphorical Uncle Sam is from 1810, predating Wilson's contract with the government.[10] As early as 1835, Brother Jonathan made a reference to Uncle Sam, implying that they symbolized different things: Brother Jonathan was the country itself, while Uncle Sam was the government and its power.[13]

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. For example, one depiction of Uncle Sam in 1860 showed him looking like Benjamin Franklin,[14] while a contemporaneous depiction of Brother Jonathan[15] looks more like the modern version of Uncle Sam, though without a goatee.

Uncle Sam did not get a standard appearance, even with the effective abandonment of Brother Jonathan near the end of the American Civil War, until the well-known "recruitment" image of Uncle Sam was first created by James Montgomery Flagg during World War I. The image was inspired by a British recruitment poster showing Lord Kitchener in a similar pose. It is this image more than any other that has influenced the modern appearance of Uncle Sam: an elderly white man with white hair and a goatee, wearing a white top hat with white stars on a blue band, a blue tail coat, and red-and-white-striped trousers.

Flagg's depiction of Uncle Sam was shown publicly for the first time, according to some, on the cover of the magazine Leslie's Weekly on July 6, 1916, with the caption "What Are You Doing for Preparedness?"[1][16] More than four million copies of this image were printed between 1917 and 1918. Flagg's image was also used extensively during World War II, during which the U.S. was codenamed "Samland" by the German intelligence agency Abwehr.[17] The term was central in the song "The Yankee Doodle Boy", which was featured in 1942 in the musical Yankee Doodle Dandy.

There are two memorials to Uncle Sam, both of which commemorate the life of Samuel Wilson: the Uncle Sam Memorial Statue in Arlington, Massachusetts, his birthplace; and a memorial near his long-term residence in Riverfront Park, Troy, New York. Wilson's boyhood home can still be visited in Mason, New Hampshire. Samuel Wilson died on July 31, 1854, aged 87, and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, New York.

In 1989, "Uncle Sam Day" became official. A Congressional joint resolution[18] designated September 13, 1989 as "Uncle Sam Day", the birthday of Samuel Wilson. In 2015, the family history company MyHeritage researched Uncle Sam's family tree and claims to have tracked down his living relatives.[19][20]

See also


  1. ^ a b "The Most Famous Poster". American Treasures of the Library of Congress. Archived from the original on 2016-07-02.
  2. ^ "Walter Botts, the Man Who Modeled Uncle Sam's Pose for J.M. Flagg's Famous Poster". Archived from the original on 2017-11-19. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
  3. ^ Schauffler, Robert Haven (1912). Flag day; its history. New York : Moffat, Yard and Co. p. 145.
  4. ^ Terry Allan Hicks (2006). Uncle Sam. Marshall Cavendish 2006, 40 pages. p. 9. ISBN 978-0761421375. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
  5. ^ p. 40–41 of Albert Matthews, "Uncle Sam". Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, v.19, 1908. pp.21–65. Google Books Archived 2015-10-03 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Benson J. Lossing, Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution, Volume II, Supplement XIV (1850)
  7. ^ Aldrich, Mark (2004). A Catalog of Folk Song Settings for Wind Band. Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 33, 59. ISBN 9781574630282.
  8. ^ "Uncle Sam,". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Archived from the original on 2013-01-20. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  9. ^ December 7, 1893 "A Bit of Advice" The Lutheran Witness pg 100
  10. ^ a b Zimmer, Ben (July 4, 2013). "New Light on "Uncle Sam" referencing work at USS Constitution Museum in Charlestown, Mass". Archived from the original on 2015-07-03. Retrieved 2015-07-02.
  11. ^ Wyandott Herald, Kansas City, August 17, 1882, p. 2
  12. ^ Matthews, Albert (1908). "Uncle Sam". Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, Volume 19. Archived from the original on 2015-10-03. Retrieved 2015-07-02.
  13. ^ Morgan, Winifred (1988). An American icon: Brother Jonathan and American identity. University of Delaware Press. pg. 81.
  14. ^ An appearance echoed in Harper's Weekly, June 3, 1865 "Checkmate" political cartoon (Morgan, Winifred (1988) An American icon: Brother Jonathan and American identity University of Delaware Press pg 95)
  15. ^ On page 32 of the January 11, 1862 edition Harper's Weekly.
  16. ^ "Who Created Uncle Sam?". Life's Little Mysteries. Live Science. Archived from the original on December 3, 2008. Retrieved February 16, 2012.
  17. ^ Macintyre, Ben. Operation Mincemeat, p.57. ISBN 978-1-4088-0921-1
  18. ^ "Bill Summary & Status - 100th Congress (1987 - 1988) - H.J.RES.626 - All Congressional Actions - THOMAS (Library of Congress)". loc.gov. Archived from the original on 2016-07-05. Retrieved 2013-09-13.
  19. ^ "New York Butcher is Named as Real Live Uncle Sam". New York Times. 2015-07-03. Archived from the original on 2015-07-08. Retrieved 2015-07-03.
  20. ^ "The History Behind Uncle Sam's Family Tree". Fox News. 2015-07-03. Retrieved 2015-07-03.

Further reading

  • Mouraux, Cecile, and Jean-Pierre Mouraux. Who Was "Uncle Sam": Illustrated Story of the Life of Our National Symbol. Sonoma, CA: Poster Collector, 2006. OCLC 70129530

External links

Brother Jonathan

Brother Jonathan is the personification of New England. He was also used as an emblem of the USA in general, and can be an allegory of capitalism. The epithet "Brother Jonathan" was originally one for the USA and not just New England, as described in Jonathan Trumbull's biography (cited above).

Brother Jonathan soon became a stock fictional character, developed as a good-natured parody of all New England during the early American Republic. He was widely popularized by the weekly newspaper Brother Jonathan and the humor magazine Yankee Notions.Brother Jonathan was usually depicted in editorial cartoons and patriotic posters outside New England as a long-winded New Englander who dressed in striped trousers, somber black coat, and stove-pipe hat. Inside New England, "Brother Jonathan" was depicted as an enterprising and active businessman who blithely boasted of Yankee conquests for the Universal Yankee Nation.After 1865, the garb of Brother Jonathan was emulated by Uncle Sam, a common personification of the continental government of the United States.

Dear Uncle Sam

"Dear Uncle Sam" is a song written and originally recorded by American country artist Loretta Lynn. It was released as a single in January 1966 via Decca Records.

Freedom Fighters (comics)

Freedom Fighters is a fictional superhero team appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. The original six characters were Black Condor, Doll Man, the Human Bomb, Ray, Phantom Lady, and Uncle Sam. Although the characters were created by Quality Comics, they never were gathered in a group before being acquired by DC. The team first appeared in a Justice League of America/Justice Society of America team-up, which ran in Justice League of America #107–108 (October–December 1973), written by Len Wein and drawn by Dick Dillin. Their own ongoing series premiered with Freedom Fighters #1 (April 1976), written by Gerry Conway and Martin Pasko, and drawn by Ric Estrada.

Hi Uncle Sam

Hi Uncle Sam! is a poem by Irish poet Rev. William Forbes Marshall. It asks of Americans that they remember the input and support of immigrants from Ulster on the United States throughout the American Revolution.

The poem was published in Marshall's book, Ulster Sails West, which was published in 1911. A mural in Newtownards displays a verse of the poem. The poem was also put to music and recorded by the Ulster Scots Folk Orchestra and verse was used by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in their Emigration Series publication.The "Uncle Sam" of title refers to the later personification of the United States.

Independence, Louisiana

Independence, originally known as Uncle Sam, is a town in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, United States. The population was 1,665 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Hammond Micropolitan Statistical Area.

Invisible Hood

The Invisible Hood is a fictional superhero in the DC Comics Universe. He was originally owned by Quality Comics, but was later acquired by DC Comics, along with other Quality characters. He first appeared in Smash Comics #1 (August 1939), and was created by Art Pinajian, Pinajian illustrated the story under the pseudonym "Art Gordon".

Kelseyville, California

Kelseyville is a census-designated place (CDP) in Lake County, California, United States. Kelseyville is located 6 miles (9.7 km) southeast of Lakeport, at an elevation of 1,384 feet (422 m). The population was 3,353 at the 2010 census, up from 2,928 at the 2000 census.


"Lillibullero" (also spelled Lillibulero, Lilliburlero) is a march that became popular in England at the time of the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

National Comics (series)

National Comics was an anthology comic book series published by Quality Comics, from July, 1940 until November, 1949. It ran for 75 issues.

National Comics #1 introduced Will Eisner's Uncle Sam, a superhero version of the national personification of the United States. Other running features in the title included Wonder Boy, The Barker, and Quicksilver (later revamped by DC Comics as Max Mercury). In addition to Eisner, other comic artists and writers who contributed to National Comics included Jack Cole, Lou Fine, and Reed Crandall.

National Comics #18 (Dec, 1941), which hit the stands on November 1941, notably depicted a German attack on Pearl Harbor, a month before the actual Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base.

National personification

A national personification is an anthropomorphism of a nation or its people. It may appear in editorial cartoons and propaganda.

Some early personifications in the Western world tended to be national manifestations of the majestic wisdom and war goddess Minerva/Athena, and often took the Latin name of the ancient Roman province. Examples of this type include Britannia, Germania, Hibernia, Helvetia and Polonia. Examples of personifications of the Goddess of Liberty include Marianne, the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World), and many examples of United States coinage. Another ancient model was Roma, a female deity who personified the city of Rome and more broadly, the Roman state, and who was revived in the 20th Century as the personification of Mussolini's "New Roman Empire". Examples of representations of the everyman or citizenry in addition to the nation itself are Deutscher Michel, John Bull and Uncle Sam.

Red Bee (comics)

The Red Bee is the name of two fictional superheroes. The debuted in the Golden Age of Comics when he first appeared in Hit Comics #1, published in July 1940 by Quality Comics. The character was obtained by DC Comics in 1956. This version of the character has since fallen into public domain. The second, written as the grandniece of the original, first appeared in Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #5.

Red Salute (1935 film)

Red Salute (also released as Arms and the Girl) is a 1935 American comedy film directed by Sidney Lanfield and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Young. Based on a story by Humphrey Pearson, the film is about the daughter of a US Army general who becomes involved with a suspected communist agitator.

Samuel Wilson

Samuel Wilson (September 13, 1766 – July 31, 1854) was a meat packer from Troy, New York whose name is purportedly the source of the personification of the United States known as "Uncle Sam".

Scouting in New York

Scouting in New York has a long history, from the 1910s to the present day, serving thousands of youth in programs that suit the environment in which they live. In fact, the first National Boy Scouts of America Headquarters was in New York City, and the Girl Scouts of the USA National Headquarters is located at 420 5th Avenue, New York, New York.

USS Black Hawk (1848)

USS Black Hawk (1848) was a large steamer purchased by the Union Navy during the American Civil War.

She was assigned by the Union Navy to gunboat duty in the waterways of the rebellious Confederate States of America.

Uncle Sam (1852 sidewheeler)

Uncle Sam, was a side-wheel paddle steamer and the first steamboat on the Colorado River in 1852.

In November 1852, Uncle Sam, a 65-foot (20 m) long side-wheel paddle steamer was brought by the schooner Capacity from San Francisco to the Colorado River Delta by the next contractor to supply Fort Yuma, Captain James Turnbull. It had been built in June 1852 in San Francisco by Domingo Marcucci and disassembled for shipment. It was assembled and launched in the estuary, 30 miles (48 km) above the mouth of the Colorado River. Equipped with only a 20-horsepower (15 kW) engine, Uncle Sam could only carry 35 tons of supplies, taking 15 days to make the first 120-mile (190 km) trip.

Uncle Sam made many trips up and down the river for four months to finish carrying all the supplies for the fort, improving its time up river to 12 days. Negligence caused it to sink at its dock below Fort Yuma, and was then washed away and lost before it could be raised, in the spring flood of 1853. Turnbull who meanwhile had returned to the Delta from San Francisco with another cargo and a more powerful engine for the Uncle Sam. He returned to San Francisco, for a new hull, while the army sent wagons to recover the cargo from the delta again. However, Turnbull in financial difficulty, disappeared from the city leaving creditors unpaid. Nevertheless, Turnbull had shown the worth of steamboats to solve Fort Yuma's supply problem.

Uncle Sam (comics)

Uncle Sam is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. Based on the national personification of the United States, Uncle Sam, the character first appeared in National Comics #1 (July, 1940) and was created by Will Eisner.

Uncle Sam (song)

"Uncle Sam" is a song by the English ska/pop band Madness from their 1985 album Mad Not Mad. It was predominantly written by their saxophonist Lee Thompson, but partially credited to their guitarist Chris Foreman.

Whiskey in the Jar

"Whiskey in the Jar" is an Irish traditional song set in the southern mountains of Ireland, often with specific mention of counties Cork and Kerry, as well as Fenit, a village in County Kerry. The song is about a rapparee (highwayman), who is betrayed by his wife or lover, and is one of the most widely performed traditional Irish songs. It has been recorded by numerous professional artists since the 1950s.

The song first gained wide exposure when the Irish folk band The Dubliners performed it internationally as a signature song, and recorded it on three albums in the 1960s. In the U.S., the song was popularized by The Highwaymen, of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" fame, who recorded it on their 1962 album Encore (United Artists UAL 3225, mono and UAS 6225, stereo). Building on their success, the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy hit the Irish and British pop charts with the song in 1973. In 1990 The Dubliners re-recorded the song with The Pogues with a faster rocky version charting at No.4 in Ireland and No.63 in the UK. The American metal band Metallica brought it to a wider rock audience in 1998 by playing a version very similar to that of Thin Lizzy's, though with a heavier sound, winning a Grammy for the song in 2000 for Best Hard Rock Performance. In 2019 Canadian singer, songwriter Bryan Adams performed another cover of this song through his album Shine A Light.

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