Uncle Sam wants you! The Uncle Sam poster has become an iconic symbol in United States history, the nickname dating back to September 7, 1813. But who is “Uncle Sam”? Where did the nickname come from? And, what is its significance to American history? He’s not a soldier. He’s not a government official. Instead, he was a meatpacker.

Uncle Sam, meatpacker

The Uncle Sam name is linked to Samuel Wilson, a meatpacker from Troy, New York. During the War of 1812, he supplied barrels of beef to the U.S. Army. He stamped the barrels with “U.S.,” intending the initials to stand for the United States. However, soldiers began referring to the meat supply as “Uncle Sam’s.” Once newspapers heard the story, they printed Uncle Sam’s name on September 7, 1813, as the official nickname for the U.S. federal government. However, it would be years before Uncle Sam’s image would become a symbol of the U.S. military.

Popularizing the image

In the late 1860s and ‘70s, political cartoonist Thomas Nast popularized the image of Uncle Sam. He gave Uncle Sam the iconic white beard and stars-and-stripes suit now associated with the character. Nast’s image was adjusted by artist James Montgomery Flagg during World War I. He gave Uncle Sam a tall top hat, blue jacket, and his poster shows Uncle Sam pointing straight ahead. The poster uses the words “I Want You For The U.S. Army” to be used as a recruiting poster. The image immediately became popular, first used on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly in July 1916 with the title “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?”. The poster was distributed and reprinted several times, encouraging men to enlist in the U.S. Army.

America may only know the image as Uncle Sam, but in September 1961, the U.S. Congress recognized Samuel Wilson as “the progenitor of America’s national symbol of Uncle Sam.” Uncle Sam became a symbol of the U.S. Army, but also a patriotic symbol of the country. Uncle Sam wants you to support the United States. Can you really say no to him?