Who Is Uncle Sam?

An old US Navy recruiting poster featuring Uncle Sam.
An old US Navy recruiting poster featuring Uncle Sam.

Uncle Sam is a personification term used to refer to either the American Government or just the United States. It is important to note that the initials “US” loosely and directly translates to the phrase Uncle Sam. In simple terms, Uncle Sam is a metaphor for the United States. It is mostly used to express patriotism and as a significant symbol of the American Culture.

Origin Of The Name Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam traces its origin during the War of 1812. It is often assumed that the metaphor came into use for the honor of Samuel Wilson. However, the origin of the metaphor is unclear to historians. Samuel Wilson was a meatpacker from New York who was responsible for the supply of meat to the soldiers in the battlefield in 1812.

At the origin of this story, which does not have any solid roots, contractors were required to have their names stamped on the products they supplied. The rations supplied by Samuel Wilson were labeled as EA-US. One worker assumed that the initials stood for Elbert Anderson who was the contractor and Uncle Sam. This story is believed to be to be true by quite a large number of people. However, there is no evidence to prove its authenticity. The metaphor, thereafter, became a popular symbol for the United States. Its popularity was at its peak in the 19th century.

Other Related Personifications

The earliest known personification that was used to refer to the United States was Columbia. Columbia is different from Uncle Sam in that initially, Uncle Sam was used to just refer to the United States government before it later became a personification for the whole of the United States. Columbia was a female goddess. The use of Columbia disappeared for the sake of Liberty. Brother Jonathan is another male personification used to refer to the United States. In fact, according to a certain article in The Lutheran Witness of 1893, Brother Jonathan and Uncle Sam were one and the same. The article states that “Uncle Sam” is used politically whereas “Brother Jonathan” is used socially. The terms have been used interchangeably for quite a long time now.

In Honor Of Samuel Wilson

Uncle Sam did not have a common appearance for a long time even after the use of the metaphor became viral. Even after the use of “Brother Jonathan” was abandoned, nobody was keen enough to come up with a symbol for Uncle Sam. It was not until during World War I when James Montgomery Flagg came up with an image that was later recognized as the symbol of Uncle Sam. Even the modern appearances of Uncle Sam are inspired by Montgomery’s image. The image is depicted as an old white man who has a goatee and whose hair is white. He is usually in a white top hat that has white stars on a band of blue while the trouser is red and white striped. He is also putting on a blue tailcoat.

The birthday of Samuel Wilson, September 13, was recognized as a holiday in 1989. It came to be known as Uncle Sam Day after the approval of a Congressional Joint resolution in 1989. There are also two Uncle Sam’s memorial centers, all in commemoration of Samuel Wilson.


More in Politics