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Interesting US History
A Website Devoted to Interesting Events in U.S. History





April 20, 2009

Sam Wilson

Sam Wilson was born September 13, 1766 in what is now Arlington, Massachusetts to parents who had emigrated from Scotland. On April 19, 1775, Sam’s father Edward was one of the 70 minutemen that the British encountered in their march to Concord. Young Sam was only eight years old.

In 1780, the Wilson family moved to Mason, NH where Sam learned brick making. The following year, when he was 15 he joined the Revolutionary army where he tended livestock and repaired fences. In 1789, Sam and his brother Ebenezer moved to Troy, New York and established a brick yard. Eventually they became well known and earned the respect of the citizens of the community. Sam’s generosity to the children of the community eventually earned him the nickname “Uncle Sam”.

The brothers’ success with the brick-yard eventually lead to a slaughtering business and during the War of 1812 they signed a contract to supply the U.S. troops with salted beef and pork. At the time, the meat was shipped packed in barrels and the workers would letter the barrels with the initials U.S. for United States. Using the initials wasn’t common at the time so people would occasionally ask what the U.S. stood for. One day, when one of the workers was asked, he joked that it stood for Uncle Sam.

Before long, the phrase began to appear in newspapers and eventually people began referring to government property as belonging to Uncle Sam. Yes, the Uncle Sam we have come to know as a symbol of our government was a real person.

Although Uncle Sam was a real person, the drawings of Uncle Sam never looked like Sam Wilson and they have changed over the years. In the early drawings he was clean-shaven and was dressed in black. Later he was dressed in the colors of the American flag. During the Civil War, cartoonist Thomas Nast made him gaunt and added a beard to make him look more like Abraham Lincoln. The most famous depiction of Uncle Sam, the one used on recruiting posters during World War I, was actually modeled on the artist who drew it, James Montgomery Flagg.

Mark Bowman

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