Even if your parents don’t have any brothers, did you know you still have an uncle? It’s true! He’s really tall. He has white hair and a goatee. He often wears a red, white and blue outfit and a top hat. And guess what? He wants YOU!
Who are we talking about? Uncle Sam, of course! For almost 200 years, the cartoon-like character of Uncle Sam has symbolized the United States. When an object or idea — like an entire country, for example — is made to seem like a real person, we call that personification.
Historians believe that the personification of the United States as Uncle Sam began during the War of 1812. During that war, a meat packer named Samuel Wilson from Troy, New York, shipped beef to the U.S. Army in large barrels.
These barrels had “U.S.” on the outside of them, which stood for “United States.” Mr. Wilson’s workers, though, often joked that the “U.S.” stood for “Uncle Sam” Wilson.
Over time, the shipments became known as presents from “Uncle Sam.” Since it was the United States federal government that was providing the food for its soldiers, “Uncle Sam” soon became associated with the U.S. government.
Did Samuel Wilson look like the cartoon pictures of Uncle Sam that are so familiar? Nope! The cartoon-like character we quickly recognize as Uncle Sam was actually invented by artists who created political cartoons for newspapers.
One of the most famous cartoonists to draw Uncle Sam was a man named Thomas Nast. He drew many of the first cartoons of Uncle Sam in the late 1860s and early 1870s.
Probably the most famous picture of Uncle Sam, though, was on a U.S. Army recruiting poster. Designed for World War I and used again in World War II, the poster features a caption that reads “I Want You for U.S. Army.” The poster’s artist was James Montgomery Flagg, who also served as the model for Uncle Sam!