During the War of 1812, a man from Troy, New York by the name of Samuel Wilson supplied meat to the troops, and the meat came in crates labeled “U.S.” for United States, but to keep up their spirits during wartime, the soldiers jokingly referred to the “U.S.” stamped crates as the initials meaning “Uncle Sam’s.” For months they had called this meat “Uncle Sam’s” but it wasn’t until a local newspaper picked up on the story and spread it around that the name stuck, and became the official nickname for the U.S. Government on September 7th, 1813.
Several images of Uncle Sam have been presented since 1813 but the image that set the foundation for the present-day Uncle Sam (which is of Uncle Sam with a tall top hat, stars and stripes suit, and long white beard) was created by Thomas Nast in the late 1860s; Nast was the same man who created the modern day image of Santa Claus, the donkey for the Democrat party, and the Elephant for the Republican party. The image of Uncle Sam has since evolved from Nast’s original work; the tall white top hat reduced in size and a blue star pattern band was put around it and the star-laden blue waistcoat under a plain blue jacket was changed to a plain white waistcoat under the plain blue jacket. This happened in WW1 when James Montgomery Flagg created US Army posters.
Thanks to Nast and Flagg, and thanks to the soldiers in the War of 1812 and the good man and patriot who supplied them with meat for their strength, we have the name and picture of Uncle Sam, and we recognize that day not on September 7th when the nickname was born, but on September 13th, which on that day in 1766 was the date of birth of Samuel Wilson.
Happy Uncle Sam Day!
(pictured below: “Uncle Sam” Samuel Wilson, Nast’s 1877 Harper’s Weekly cartoon of Uncle Sam, and Flagg’s Army Poster for WW1)