March 13: The Evolution of Uncle Sam

This Day in History

On this day in 1852, the iconic American figure “Uncle Sam” debuts in The New York Lantern newspaper.  Although “Uncle Sam” had been featured in numerous patriotic songs, poems, and newspapers prior to 1852, he had never been physically captured in form of a cartoon, which personified the figure. 

The local lure of the historic symbol may have originated during the War of 1812 when a meatpacker from New York named Sam Wilson began stamping his products with a “U.S.” Many believe he may have been the inspiration behind the original “Uncle Sam.”

First image of Uncle Sam first published in The New York Lantern

At the time, however, America’s first emblematic character was actually a Grecian Goddess type woman named Columbia, often known as Lady Liberty. But with the publication of the New York Lantern’s cartoon, Uncle Sam quickly rose to popularity.

In fact, during World War I, the U.S government used Uncle Sam as a recruitment tool with the “We Want You,” highly successful marketing campaign. Uncle Sam continues to be the tall, towering, larger-than-life figure representing Republican government, patriotism, and the American ideal.

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