Uncle Sam is a national personification of the United States (US), with the first usage of the term dating from the War of 1812 and the first illustration dating from 1852. He is often depicted as a serious elderly white man with white hair and a goatee, with an obvious resemblance to Presidents Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, and dressed in clothing that recalls the design elements of the flag of the United States—for example, typically a top hat with red and white stripes and white stars on a blue band, and red and white striped trousers.
Common folklore holds origins trace back to soldiers stationed in upstate New York, who would receive barrels of meat stamped with the initials U.S. The soldiers jokingly referred these initials as to naming the troops’ meat supplier, (Uncle) Samuel Wilson of Troy, New York.
The 87th United States Congress adopted the following resolution on September 15, 1961: "Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives that the Congress salutes Uncle Sam Wilson of Troy, New York, as the progenitor of America’s National symbol of Uncle Sam." Monuments mark his birthplace in Arlington, Massachusetts, and site of burial in Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, New York. Another sign marks "The boyhood home of Uncle Sam" outside his second home in Mason, NH. The first use of the term in literature is seen in an 1816 allegorical book, The Adventures of Uncle Sam in Search After His Lost Honor by Frederick Augustus Fidfaddy, Esq., also in reference to the aforementioned Samuel Wilson.
Earlier representative figures of the United States included such beings as "Brother Jonathan," used by Punch magazine. These were overtaken by Uncle Sam somewhere around the time of the Civil War. The female personification "Columbia" has seldom been seen since the 1920s.
Originally published as the cover for the July 6, 1916, issue of Leslie’s Weekly with the title "What Are You Doing for Preparedness?" this portrait of "Uncle Sam" went on to become–according to its creator, James Montgomery Flagg–"the most famous poster in the world." Over four million copies were printed between 1917 and 1918, as the United States entered World War I and began sending troops and matériel into war zones.
Flagg (1877-1960) contributed forty-six works to support the war effort. He was a member of the first Civilian Preparedness Committee organized in New York in 1917 and chaired by Grosvenor Clarkson. He also served as a member of Charles Dana Gibson’s Committee of Pictorial Publicity, which was organized under the federal government’s Committee on Public Information, headed by George Creel.
Because of its overwhelming popularity, the image was later adapted for use in World War II. Upon presenting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt a copy of the poster, Flagg remarked that he had been his own model for Uncle Sam to save the modeling fee. Roosevelt was impressed and replied: "I congratulate you on your resourcefulness in saving model hire. Your method suggests Yankee forebears."
Uncle Sam is one of the most popular personifications of the United States. However, the term "Uncle Sam" is of somewhat obscure derivation. Historical sources attribute the name to a meat packer who supplied meat to the army during the War of 1812–Samuel (Uncle Sam) Wilson (1766-1854). "Uncle Sam" Wilson was a man of great fairness, reliability, and honesty, who was devoted to his country–qualities now associated with "our" Uncle Sam. James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960)