People all over the world recognize Uncle Sam – the tall, white-haired gentleman dressed in red, white, and blue – as a symbol of the United States. Where did this old fellow with the top hat come from?
No one knows for sure, but tradition says he first showed up during the War of 1812. Businessman Samuel Wilson of Troy, New York, who was known to friends as Uncle Sam, supplied the Army with beef in barrels. The barrels were labeled “U.S.” to show they belonged to the United States government. Somewhere along the way, it is said, folks began to joke that the “U.S.” stood for Uncle Sam, and a national symbol was born.
Uncle Sam’s stars-and-stripes costume originated in political cartoons of the nineteenth century. The best-known image first appeared on July 6, 1916, during World War I, on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly magazine with the title “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” The artist, James Montgomery Flagg, based his portrait of Uncle Sam on his own likeness to save the cost of hiring a model. The picture was so popular, the U.S. government eventually turned it into the famous recruiting poster of Uncle Sam declaring, “I Want You.”