My VIP for this week is Uncle Sam. With the initials of U.S., he is a personification of the government of the United States. According to one legend, the name Uncle Sam dates back to the War of 1812. Uncle Sam was apparently named for Samuel Wilson, a man who provided meat for the military during the war.
Wilson was born in Massachusetts and fought in the Revolutionary War. After the war he made his home in Troy, New York. Samuel and his brother, Ebenezer, founded a meat packing business and called it E. & S. Wilson. “Samuel was a man of great fairness, reliability, and honesty” and was “devoted to his country.” The people in his community liked Samuel so much that they called him “Uncle Sam.” During the War of 1812, the Wilson brothers bid for a contract with Elbert Anderson to provide meat for the troops, and they won.
At the time, contractors were required to stamp their name and where the rations came from onto the food they were sending. Wilson’s packages were labeled “E.A. – US” which stood for Elbert Anderson, the contractor, and the United States. When an individual in the meat packing facility asked what it stood for, a coworker joked and said it referred to Sam Wilson – “Uncle Sam.”
A number of soldiers who were originally from Troy, also saw the designation on the barrels, and being acquainted with Sam Wilson and his nickname “Uncle Sam”, and the knowledge that Wilson was feeding the army, led them to the same conclusion. The local newspaper soon picked up on the story and Uncle Sam eventually gained widespread acceptance as the nickname for the U.S. federal government.
This could be just a fun story because there is no official connection between this local story and the national legend. There could be some truth to the story, but the source of the name is not really important. The U.S. Congress recognized Samuel Wilson in September 1961 as “the progenitor of America’s national symbol of Uncle Sam.” Wilson died in 1854 at age 88 and is buried in Troy, New York, a town that describes itself as “The Home of Uncle Sam.”
Regardless of the actual source, Uncle Sam immediately became popular as a symbol of an ever-changing nation. His “likeness” appeared in drawings in various forms including resemblances to Brother Jonathan, a national personification and emblem of New England, and Abraham Lincoln, and others. In the late 1860s and 1870s, political cartoonist Thomas Nast began popularizing the image of Uncle Sam. Nast continued to evolve the image, eventually giving Sam the white beard and stars-and-stripes suit that are associated with the character today….
Uncle Sam gives a face and some emotion to the federal government of the United States. He shares a birthday with the nation that he represents - July 4th. Uncle Sam needs our support!
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