Uncle Sam Hagiography
Although Uncle Sam is one of the most familiar national icons in the U.S., many Americans have little or no concept of his origins. Even historians aren’t wholly certain where he came from, but most believe that he is the culmination of a tradition of representative male icons that can be traced back to colonial times. It is thought that the actual figure of Uncle Sam dates to the War of 1812, a time when there was renewed interest in national identity which had faded since the revolutionary war. Most agree that Uncle Sam was based on Samuel Wilson. Born in Massachusetts, he settled in the town of Troy, New York. Known locally as "Uncle" Sam, he and his brother Ebenezer began the firm of E. & S. Wilson. It was through this firm, and the war contracts they acquired in 1812, that Sam gained his notoriety. One such contract was for the supply of meats to the Army. Troy residents associated the "U.S." on the sides of the barrels of troop rations with "Uncle Sam", who they all knew was feeding the army. The connection between this local saying and the national legend is not easily traced. The connection between the popular cartoon figure and Samuel Wilson was reported in the New York Gazette in 1830, and later confirmed by Samuel Wilson's great -nephew. By the early twentieth century, there was little physical resemblance left between Samuel Wilson and Uncle Sam. As a symbol of an ever-changing nation, Uncle Sam had gone through many incarnations. Initially cartoon versions of Sam were very familiar to those of Brother Jonathan. The Civil War saw a major transition in the development of Uncle Sam as his image was associated with that of Abraham Lincoln. It was during this period that Sam aged and acquired a beard. Thomas Nast, a prominent 19th-century political cartoonist, produced many of the earliest cartoons of Uncle Sam. The final version of Uncle Sam that we are most familiar with today came about in 1917. This famous "I Want You" recruiting poster by James Montgomery Flagg set the image of Uncle Sam firmly into American consciousness.