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The Origin of Uncle Sam

There is a smiling, elderly, white-bearded man in a red, white and blue top hat and blue coat on USA Insulation‘s logo. He is widely known as Uncle Sam. For two centuries he has been our nation‘s symbol of freedom and love for and responsibility to country. But how many people know where this patriotic personification of the good ole USA came from?

What better time to learn of Uncle Sam‘s origins than right now as we celebrate Independence Day, America‘s most patriotic of holidays.

Though we declared our independence from Britain in 1776, Uncle Sam was not born until 1813, 37 years later. He got his name not from a Senator, Congressman, or anyone associated with the U.S. government, but from a Troy, New York meat packer named Samuel Wilson. During the War of 1812, Wilson supplied the United States Army with barrels of beef. The barrels were stamped “U.S.” for United States, but the soldiers referred to the meat as “Uncle Sam‘s”. A local reporter thought this made a good story and got it published in the local newspaper. The name Uncle Sam quickly caught on all across the country as the nickname for the U.S. Federal government, but it would be another 50 years before he truly became a character.

In the late 1860‘s, a famous political cartoonist named Thomas Nast finally put a face to Uncle Sam and continued to evolve the image into the white bearded character in a stars and stripes suit that is still the accepted image today. Nast also was credited with coming up with the modern image of Santa Claus, the donkey as the symbol of the Democratic Party, and the elephant as a symbol for the Republicans.

Then in World War I, Sam‘s popularity skyrocketed when he became the poster boy for army recruitment. Artist James Montgomery Flagg drew him with a stern look on his face, his finger pointing straight at the viewer, with the caption “I Want You for the U.S. Army”. The poster was widely distributed as a recruiting tool and Uncle Sam became an American icon, used widely for many purposes associated with patriotism and the United States government.

In September 1961, almost 150 years after Uncle Sam was born, the U.S. Congress recognized Samuel Wilson as “the progenitor of America’s national symbol of Uncle Sam”, and in 1989 designated Wilson‘s birthday, September 13, as “Uncle Sam Day”. Today, Troy, New York calls itself “The Home of Uncle Sam”.

Now you know the story of our dear old patriotic uncle, a little weathered from his long journey through history, but still as vibrant as he was when Samuel Wilson first stamped his initials on his barrels of beef!