One of the most prominent figures in American history became a national sensation 204 years ago; dressed in a white top hat, blue and white suit, a red bow tie and the face of determination, Uncle Sam made his debut.
On September 7, 1813, with the help of Samuel Wilson, a meat packer from New York, Uncle Sam was born. Wilson shipped barrels upon barrels of beef to the United States Army during the War of 1812, and the soldiers had nicknamed the beef “Uncle Sam’s,” history.com states.
At the time, a local newspaper ran a story about the newfound nickname, and eventually, Uncle Sam symbolized patriotism, put a recognizable face to the U.S. government and was featured on a recruiting poster during World War I.
Uncle Sam’s image became most popular in the late 1860’s and 1870’s when Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist, gave Sam a white beard and a stars and stripes suit.
Later though, the most popular image of Uncle Sam was created by James Montgomery Flagg, which shows him in a tall top hat, blue jacket and pointing forward, captioned with, “I Want You For The U.S. Army,” in effort to recruit soldiers during World War I, as well as rally support from civilians for participation and entry into the war. In July of 1916, this image plastered the front page of “Leslie’s Weekly.”
Britannica states that in terms of inspiration for Uncle Sam’s image though, his appearance is based off of two symbolic American icons: Yankee Doodle and Brother Jonathan.
Brother Jonathan was someone who displayed “native intelligence, always triumphed over his adversaries in plays, stories, cartoons and verse,” whereas Yankee Doodle was a nickname for American colonials during the American Revolution. As two popular representations of folklore in the U.S. at the time, Uncle Sam took on and displayed many of these same characteristics.
In 1950, Uncle Sam officially became the national symbol for the U.S. In a time where unity is more important than ever, maybe Uncle Sam can serve as a reminder to our patrotism.
Jessica Ricard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Correction made 9/25/17- Paragraph 1: Changed “104” to “204”*