5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Uncle Sam

On March 13 1852, the familiar image of "Uncle Sam" debuted as a cartoon character in the New York Lantern. Here are 5 things you didn’t know about this popular symbol of our country...


The Original Uncle Sam May Have Been a Meat Packer A man in New York named Samuel Wilson joined the Army in 1781, and his duties included taking care of cattle and slaughtering and packaging the meat that was sent to the troops. He and his brother went into the meatpacking business and supplied the meat during the War of 1812, stamping the packages with a U.S. for the United States. Soldiers knew and liked Samuel Wilson and joked that the U.S. stamped on the packages stood for Uncle Sam instead of the United States, so the name was born.

Uncle Sam Didn’t Grow a Beard Until Late in the 19th Century Thomas Nast, the cartoonist, was well-recognized as producing the popular image of Santa Claus and the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey. He was well-known, in addition, for his many cartoons depicting Abraham Lincoln, who was bearded. Uncle Sam alternated between having and not having a beard until Lincoln was elected President and facial hair became common as a sign of power and masculinity during the later part of the 1860s. It isn’t much of a mystery why Nast added a beard to Uncle Sam as well as making him a bit older and thinner.


A Recruitment Poster Made Uncle Sam More Famous In 1917, illustrator James Montgomery Flagg drew an image of Uncle Sam to use as a recruitment poster for World War I, which showed Uncle Sam pointing and saying “I want YOU for U.S. Army.” About four million copies were printed for the war effort. While he used his own face in the first version he created, Walter Botts, an Indiana man, posed for the updated version.

You Can Celebrate Uncle Sam's Existence in Troy, New York Samuel Wilson was from Troy, New York, and the town has several sites and monuments to the man behind what was one of the country's earlier memes. In addition to a statue and marking the location of his grave, Troy also has marked a false grave, the vacant lot where his house used to be, a mural on the side of a brewery building, and other unusual sites.

There May Be Two Modern Comic Book Connections "Sam Wilson" is a pretty common name, but Marvel Comics may have decided to base its superhero character "the Falcon" on the meatpacker Sam Wilson. And in 2014, when the comics publisher decided to remove the character of Steve Rogers from the position of Captain America, guess who got the job? Yes -- the Falcon, or Sam Wilson, now personifying the country in a superhero capacity.