Everyday I get an email from "Bill Bennett's American Patriot's Daily Almanac". Within each is a series of interesting historical factoids about something that happened in the United States. On July 6th, I read along as the email noted the origins of the iconic Uncle Sam caricature and the term. I was completely unaware of the history surrounding not only the image but of also the phrase Uncle Sam. So I thought I'd share what they wrote.
People all over the world recognize Uncle Sam – the tall, white-haired gentleman dressed in red, white, and blue – as a symbol of the United States. Where did this old fellow with the top hat come from?
No one knows for sure, but tradition says he first showed up during the War of 1812. Businessman Samuel Wilson of Troy, New York, who was known to friends as Uncle Sam, supplied the Army with beef in barrels. The barrels were labeled “U.S.” to show they belonged to the United States government. Somewhere along the way, it is said, folks began to joke that the “U.S.” stood for Uncle Sam, and a national symbol was born.
Uncle Sam’s stars-and-stripes costume originated in political cartoons of the nineteenth century. The best-known image first appeared on July 6, 1916, during World War I, on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly magazine with the title “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” The artist, James Montgomery Flagg, based his portrait of Uncle Sam on his own likeness to save the cost of hiring a model. The picture was so popular, the U.S. government eventually turned it into the famous recruiting poster of Uncle Sam declaring, “I Want You.”
I did some Internet sleuthing and finally found the image the email is referencing. It's ironic that the original phrase associated with the image of 'Uncle Sam' isn't "I want YOU", but rather "What are YOU doing for Preparedness". Here is the original Uncle Sam image for you to enjoy!