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Uncle Sam Origins

“Uncle Sam” became the nickname for the Americans during the “War of 1812” between Britain and the United States.

At the time, Samuel Wilson, a meat packer and former bricklayer, worked for his uncle, Elbert Anderson, who had a store yard at Troy on the Hudson River in the state of New York. His firm had the contract to supply meat (mostly beef and salted pork) to the army. They despatched it in large barrels.

Samuel Wilson was given the task of inspecting on behalf of the government each delivery. If passing it as fit for consumption, he stamped the individual container with a sign, indicating his approval. The mark chosen was four capital letters: EAUS. They represented the initials of Elbert Anderson’s name and those of the United States.

One day, so a story goes, a visitor to the packing shed was intrigued by the four characters on the consignments and asked what they meant. Pulling his leg, one of the workers explained to him that they stood for Elbert Anderson’s “Uncle Sam.” The choice of “Uncle Sam” in this instance was very appropriate. It was the nickname given to Samuel Wilson both inside and outside the firm. He was a well-known and liked identity in the city. What was meant as a joke was taken seriously and soon adopted far and wide, as the personification of the American. The authorities welcomed this as, at the time, they realized the role “Uncle Sam” could play as a forceful symbol and propaganda weapon against mighty John Bull, representing the hostile British.

When, in 1854, at the ripe old age of 88, Samuel Wilson passed away, his name did not die with him and as “Uncle Sam” it has been adopted worldwide as a nickname for a typical American and then for the entire American nation.

Years later, in 1868, a cartoonist’s art created the picture of the Uncle Sam as it is known today. He was Thomas Nast, who worked for Harper’s Weekly. Oddly, he transferred to him features, such as the goatee beard and the stars on the vest, he had previously used in the drawing of a famous clown.

Taken From: Webster’s World Encyclopedia 2001. Published by Webster Publishing, 2000. Copyright Webster Publishing, and/or contributors.

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