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Uncle Sam is an iconic personage that is closely associated with the United States. The recruitment poster created by James Montgomery Flagg (featured above) is clearly the most famous image of the fierce-looking and passionate Uncle Sam. This poster was used to recruit people to join the U.S. army during both World War I and World War II. While this image of Uncle Sam is certainly the most well known, it is not the first time Uncle Sam was used to stir patriotism in Americans.

The Birth of Uncle Sam

This caricature of Uncle Sam by Thomas Nast in 1874 helped inspire the modern image of the American personage.

The character of Uncle Sam is thought to have begun during the War of 1812 as a counterpart to the English character John Bull. The name “Uncle Sam” is said to stem from the barrels of beef that were supplied to the U.S. Army by a meat packer from Troy, New York who was named “Uncle Sam” Wilson. These barrels were all stamped with the letters “US” on them. While the truth is that these letters really stood for “United States,” the legend was just too much to resist, and hence Uncle Sam was born. Congress even went so far as to recognize the story with “Uncle Sam” Wilson as the official version of Uncle Sam’s origin.

Cartoonists first began to portray Uncle Sam in 1830, and he was even portrayed by British Cartoonists in Punch. It was Thomas Nast, however, who first drew the version of Uncle Sam that is most closely associated with the Uncle Sam that is so universally known today. In fact, Nast’s portrayal of Uncle Sam is what inspired Flagg in creating his recruitment poster in the early 20th century.