Tuesday, July 2, 2019

When Did America Become Uncle Sam?

In honor of Independence Day this month, I'm going to share the history behind the term "Uncle Sam" and how it came to be a nickname for the U.S.A.

I love this story, because it really captures the heart of the U.S.A, and the working folks the country was built on.
Samuel Wilson - Public Domain

Believe it or not, Uncle Sam was not a politician, a celebrity, or anything of that nature. He was a regular businessman and worker. As a young man, Samuel joined the Revolutionary Army where his duties included slaughtering and packaging meat for the army. Interestingly enough, it is this same vocation that would later on become his fame.

A descendant of one of the oldest families in Boston, Samuel Wilson and his brother were among the pioneer settlers of the community of Troy, New York. At the young age of 25 and 28, Samuel and his brother were eager and ambitious entrepreneurs. Together their formed several successful businesses, including a brick factory, and a slaughterhouse.

During the War of 1812, when the United States once again fought with Britain, Samuel's slaughterhouse won the contract to supply the meat portion of the rations for the army. Samuel himself became the meat inspector for the Northern army, and wrote on each barrel of meat with initials "EU - US" which indicated who the barrel was designated for: "Elbert Anderson, United States". However, in a large camp nearby, there were many men who were from Troy and were familiar with Samuel's slaughterhouse. As the legend goes, they began to refer to the "US" as Uncle Sam, and the name stuck.
Thomas Nast's Uncle Sam - Public Domain

The association of Uncle Sam as the United States increased in the 1860's and 1870's when a political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, picked it up. It was Nast who gave Sam his white beard and stars-and-stripes suit.

Of course the most famous depictions of Uncle Sam come from the WWII era. This is when Uncle Sam became the character we know today with the top hat, blue jacket, and pointed finger. This image is thanks to James Montgomery Flagg.

Flagg's Uncle Sam as seen on Leslie's magazine. - Public Domain

In September of 1961, the United States Congress officially credited Samuel Wilson as the “the progenitor of America’s national symbol of Uncle Sam.”
Samuel Wilson died in 1854 at the age of 88. He is buried next to his wife in Troy, New York, the town that calls itself the Home of Uncle Sam. 


Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction, Amber Schamel writes riveting stories that bring HIStory to life. She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".  She lives near Denver, Colorado near her favorite stretch of mountain range. Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. 
Check out her award-winning book Dawn of Liberty for a perfect 4th of July read!

1 comment:

  1. I never realized that Uncle Sam was an actual person. Thanks for the post!