uncle-samSamuel Wilson was a businessman from Troy, NY, that supplied beef in barrels to the U.S. Army during the War of 1812. The barrels were labeled "U.S." When asked what the initials stood for, one of Wilson's workers said that it stood for Uncle Sam Wilson. The suggestion that the meat shipments came from "Uncle Sam" led to the idea that Uncle Sam symbolized the U.S. Federal Government.

Cartoonists of the 1800s drew many different versions of Uncle Sam and used him as a symbol for the U.S. Government. One of these political cartoonists, Thomas Nast, produced many of the earliest cartoons of Uncle Sam.

The most famous picture of Uncle Sam appeared on a 1917 Army recruiting poster illustrated by James Montgomery Flagg. The poster was designed in World War I and was used again in World War II. The caption reads "I Want You for U.S. Army,” and Uncle Sam is pointing directly at the viewer with a serious expression.

Uncle Sam is now a recognizable symbol of the United States; he is pictured as a white-haired man with a goatee, wearing a tall white hat decorated with a blue ribbon with white stars, a white shirt, a red bow tie, and a navy blue jacket. In full costume, people also wear red and white striped pants.

Uncle Sam facts and figures:

  • More than four million copies of Flagg’s Uncle Sam poster were printed between 1917 and 1918.
  • The artist, James Montgomery Flagg, used his own image when drawing Uncle Sam.
  • Congress passed a resolution in 1961 that recognized Samuel Wilson as the inspiration for the symbol Uncle Sam.

To learn more, see the Library of Congress site.