September 7,1813: United States nicknamed Uncle Sam

September 7: General Interest
1813: United States nicknamed Uncle Sam

On this day in 1813, the United States gets its nickname, Uncle Sam. The
name is linked to Samuel Wilson, a meat packer from Troy, New York, who supplied
barrels of beef to the United States Army during the War of 1812. Wilson
(1766-1854) stamped the barrels with “U.S.” for United States, but soldiers
began referring to the grub as “Uncle Sam’s.” The local newspaper picked up on
the story and Uncle Sam eventually gained widespread acceptance as the nickname
for the U.S. federal government.

In the late 1860s and 1870s, political
cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902) began popularizing the image of Uncle Sam.
Nast continued to evolve the image, eventually giving Sam the white beard and
stars-and-stripes suit that are associated with the character today. The
German-born Nast was also credited with creating the modern image of Santa Claus
as well as coming up with the donkey as a symbol for the Democratic Party and
the elephant as a symbol for the Republicans. Nast also famously lampooned the
corruption of New York City’s Tammany Hall in his editorial cartoons and was, in
part, responsible for the downfall of Tammany leader William Tweed.

Perhaps the most famous image of Uncle Sam was created by artist James
Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960). In Flagg’s version, Uncle Sam wears a tall top hat
and blue jacket and is pointing straight ahead at the viewer. During World War
I, this portrait of Sam with the words “I Want You For The U.S. Army” was used
as a recruiting poster. The image, which became immensely popular, was first
used on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly in July 1916 with the title “What Are You
Doing for Preparedness?” The poster was widely distributed and has subsequently
been re-used numerous times with different captions.

In September 1961,
the U.S. Congress recognized Samuel Wilson as “the progenitor of America’s
national symbol of Uncle Sam.” Wilson died at age 88 in 1854, and was buried
next to his wife Betsey Mann in the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, New York, the town
that calls itself “The Home of Uncle Sam.”

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