Uncle Sam is arguably the most popular nickname people use for the United States of America.
You must have seen the famous picture of an old guy wearing a hat and dressed like the American flag, pointing a finger towards you. The guy is none other than Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam is often used to personify America. “Uncle Sam is watching you” has become a common saying these days. It also refers to America’s deep interest in foreign affairs and sometimes even the privacy of its own people.
You might be quite surprised to know that the original Uncle Sam was an ordinary guy called Samuel Wilson, a meatpacker from Troy.
Wilson used to supply barrels of beef to the US Army during the war of 1812.
The word ‘US’ was engraved on all his barrels.
Soldiers soon started referring to the barrels in which the words the US were engraved, as Uncle Sam’s.
A local newspaper published Uncle Sam’s story and soon his popularity spread all across the United States.
Thomas Nast was the person who gave Uncle Sam his current look. He gave the character his iconic white beard and stars-and-stripes suit.
Uncle Sam’s popularity spread during the 1860s and 70s. A political cartoonist named Thomas Nast began popularizing the image of Uncle Sam.
Interestingly, Uncle Sam was not Nast’s only popular creation.
He has been credited with creating the modern image of the Santa Claus and also the symbols for the Democratic and the Republican party.
Famous artist James Montgomery Flagg modified the image a little bit and added the now iconic: the long star and stripes hat.
It was his version that showed Uncle Sam pointing his famous finger. Today, the image of Uncle Sam pointing his finger has become an integral part of popular media.
It was during the great war that the poster of Uncle Sam with the words “I Want You For The U.S. Army”, became popular.
Uncle Sam’s popularity grew even further during the First World War. Everywhere in the United States, there were signs and billboards carrying his image.
This popular image was first used on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly in July 1916. The title was “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?”. But soon the poster became immensely popular and people started reusing it with different captions.
In the year 1961, the US congress recognized Mr. Wilson as “the progenitor of America’s national symbol of Uncle Sam.”
Today, his hometown of Troy is referred as “The Home of Uncle Sam.” It amuses me that how a simple meat supplier could become the national and international symbol of a country like America.
Today it is almost impossible to imagine America without the image of Uncle Sam pointing a finger at you. I guess Samuel Wilson even in his wildest dreams could not have imagined that, engraving the word “US” on the barrels would one day make him the face of the entire nation.