Uncle Sam, the national personification of the American government was actually a meat packer from Troy, New York. That’s right, the authoritative looking and some would say tough looking Uncle Sam was a meat packer, nothing more. So how did a man from such a simple background come to become such a prominent figure in American culture?
Prior to the war of 1812 the national personification of the United States was Brother Jonathan, Johnny Reb (Johnny Rebel). It was a popular call from the revolutionary days when to be a patriot was to be a traitor to the US. So it begs the question, why the change and how did Uncle Sam Come about?
Well Uncle Sam is regarded as a symbol of the United States Government, while Brother Johnny, and Columbia before Johnny, symbolize liberty and the people. So there is a distinct difference between the two. One is the people, and the other is the government.
The name and how it came about is a rather interesting one. During the war of 1812 there was a requirement for all food being delivered to the army to be stamped with the name of the supplier and where the food came from. When someone asked what the stamp, E.A-US on the food stood for, a co-worker of Samuel Wilson joked that it stood for Elbert Anderson (the contractor), and Uncle Sam, when the US actually stood for United States. After that, the name stuck.
The image of Uncle Sam was designed by James Montgomery Flagg who was inspired by the British recruiting picture of Lord Kitchener, who was depicted being in a similar pose. The first public showing of the image of Uncle Sam was shown in the magazine Leslie’s Weekly, on July 6, 1916, with the caption “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” during the First World War. More than 4 million copies of that image were printed between 1917 and 1918.
So while Uncle Sam was a meat packer from New York, the image is a designed one.