How Did America Get An Uncle Sam?

Uncle Sam Day is September 13th. Ever wonder how and why he became a symbol for the USA? Find out!

Ever wonder how America’s “Uncle Sam” came to be? With Uncle Sam Day being September 13th, it’s a great time to dive into this bit of American history.

Who Was Uncle Sam?

Many believe that Uncle Sam was coined and then symbolized after a New Hampshire native named Samuel Wilson. Wilson was born on September 13, 1766, and lived in Mason, New Hampshire, until his teens. Seeking greener fields, he moved to Troy, New York, where he started working in the meatpacking business. Because of his warmth, friendliness, and kindness, the moniker “Uncle Sam” was popularly attributed to him.

During the War of 1812, Wilson associated himself with Elbert Anderson, a government contractor. Together they shipped large quantities of meat and other commodities from Troy to the American forces stationed in various places.

Uncle Sam’s Beef

The soldiers from Troy knew that the goods so marked were handled by Samuel Wilson, their Uncle Sam, and jokingly spoke of the meat as “Uncle Sam’s beef.” This expression was quickly adopted by their fellow soldiers, and was used by them to designate all property belonging to the United States Government as “Uncle Sam’s.”

The appellation became widely used by Americans and foreigners as a symbol of the United States. At first, the symbol was of a stocky figure with a kindly face, patterned after the likeness of Samuel Wilson, and clad in striped trousers, high hat, and flowing coattails, similar to the civilian clothing of 1812. Around 1880, some years after the death of Abraham Lincoln, the national cartoon of Uncle Sam was elongated into a figure of a tall, spare old gentleman, fashioned after the gaunt Lincoln. Today, Uncle Sam is still widely recognized and used as an American symbol.

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