The Fascinating Story Behind Uncle Sam


The man, the myth, the sort-of real person: In honor of 4th of July, here’s the story of Uncle Sam to share while you’re waiting for fireworks:

Back in the early 1800s, there was a well-liked businessman in Troy, New York, named Samuel Wilson—so well liked, in fact, that the townspeople referred to him as Uncle Sam. One of Wilson’s businesses supplied provisions to the military during the War of 1812. “The barrels he packed were stamped U.S. to indicate government property, but since the people of Troy knew where the barrels came from, they assumed that U.S. stood for ‘Uncle Sam,’ ” says Natalie Elder, a collections manager at the National Museum of American History, in Washington, D.C.

The acronym confusion spread to the soldiers stationed in upstate New York, and it wasn’t long before Uncle Sam’s spangled persona became shorthand for the good old U.S. of A. Two hundred years later, his popularity in political cartoons and Fourth of July sale circulars shows no signs of flagging.

While no one is quite sure what he really looked like, the flag-centric getup worn by the mythical version, made popular by American cartoonist Thomas Nast, was most likely inspired by the duds of John Bull, the icon of English patriotism, who proudly sported a Union Jack vest.

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  1. Debbie Roberts horvei

    He was my uncle and I’m trying to trace roots. Can u help

    July 4, 2014 at 2:21 pm
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