5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Uncle Sam

On this day in 1813, the United States got its nickname, Uncle Sam.  Here are 5 things you didn't know about the king of the pointy-finger Army posters, Uncle Sam...


1. The Name Came Before the Image. # Photo credit: By Unknown - here, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=943971. The name "Uncle Sam" got its start way back in 1813 when troops nicknamed meat supplies as "Uncle Sam" due to the initials "US" on the packaging. The "US" stood for "United States," but the man who ran the meatpacking business that created the supplies was named Sam Wilson, so "US" quickly took on a tongue-in-cheek meaning. The image of Uncle Sam as we know him, though, didn't take form until the mid-1800s, and the current image wasn't even created until about the time of the Civil War when cartoonist Thomas Nast based the likeness on that of Abraham Lincoln.

2. He Wasn't the First Illustrated Personification of the United States. # Image credit: By Paul Stahr - Herbert Hoover Library, National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2662203. Uncle Sam may be well-known now thanks to military recruitment posters, but he's not the first instance where someone tried to represent the United States with an illustration. Columbia, a female representation, was the original personification of the United States starting way back in Revolutionary times. She remained a well-known figure throughout the 1800s but gradually lost ground in the public eye to Uncle Sam. There was also Brother Jonathan, who had his origins way back in England but who became a co-representation of the country with Uncle Sam in the mid-1800s.


3. He May Represent Only the Government - Not the Country. If you're uncomfortable with throwing Columbia out of the picture, you're not alone; a common belief is that Uncle Sam really only represents the government of the U.S., while Columbia continues to represent the country as a whole.

4. He Was Originally Younger and Clean-Shaven. Before Thomas Nast took a turn illustrating Uncle Sam, the figure was younger and did not have a beard. In fact, he never had a beard until Nast -- also the man who created the modern, bearded representation of Santa Claus -- decided the figure should have some facial hair.

5. 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.

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