| Historians aren`t completely certain
how the character "Uncle Sam" was created, or who (if anyone) he was named
after. The prevailing theory is that Uncle Sam was named after Samuel Wilson.
Wilson was born in Arlington, Massachusetts, on September 13, 1766. His childhood
home was in Mason, New Hampshire. There is an historic marker on the property, which is now a privately owned home in Mason. In 1789, he and his brother Ebenezer walked
to Troy, New York.
During the War of 1812, Wilson was in the business of slaughtering and packing
meat. He provided large shipments of meat to the US Army, in barrels that
were stamped with the initials "U.S." Supposedly, someone who saw the "U.S."
stamp suggested -- perhaps as a joke -- that the initials stood for "Uncle
Sam" Wilson. The suggestion that the meat shipments came from "Uncle Sam"
led to the idea that Uncle Sam symbolized the federal government.
Samuel Wilson died in 1854. His grave is in the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy.
Uncle Sam`s traditional appearance, with a white goatee and star-spangled
suit, is an invention of artists and political cartoonists; Samuel Wilson
did not look like the modern image of Uncle Sam. For example, Wilson was
clean-shaven, while Uncle Sam is usually portrayed with a goatee.
Thomas Nast, a prominent 19th-century political cartoonist, produced many
of the earliest cartoons of Uncle Sam. However, historians and collectors
take note: Many of Nast`s cartoons may appear to depict Uncle Sam, while
in fact they depict Yankee Doodle or "Brother Jonathan." It is easy to mistake
a Brother Jonathan cartoon for one of Uncle Sam, since both figures wear
star-spangled suits of red, white and blue. As a rule, Brother Jonathan
was drawn with a feather in his cap, while Uncle Sam was not; and Uncle
Sam is nearly always drawn with a beard, while Brother Jonathan was clean-shaven.
Some have suggested that Dan Rice, a 19th-century clown, inspired Thomas
Nast`s Uncle Sam cartoons. Rice`s clown costume consisted of a hat and star-spangled
suit, much like the costome worn by Uncle Sam. However, Rice was born in
1823, and did not begin clowning until 1844; and Uncle Sam cartoons appeared
as early as 1838. Therefore, it seems unlikely that Rice was, in fact, the
inspiration for Nast`s cartoons.
"I WANT YOU"
The single most famous portrait of Uncle Sam is the "I WANT YOU" Army recruiting
poster from World War I. The poster was painted by James Montgomery Flagg
Many early examples of Uncle Sam cartoons can be found in The Foremost Guide
to Uncle Sam Collectibles, by Gerald E. Czulewicz (Collector Books, 1995).
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