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How the Government Became “Uncle Sam”

The federal government is often referred to as, “Uncle Sam.” However, not many people know why, or from where this nickname stems.

During the War of 1812, a meat-packer from Troy, NY named Samuel Wilson supplied the U.S. Army with barrels of beef. Wilson was known around town as “Uncle Sam” and when he labeled the barrels with “U.S.” the soldiers assumed that’s what the initials stood for.  It actually meant “United States,” and the ideas combined where Uncle Sam stood for the United States of America. A newspaper picked up on the story, and as word traveled, the term “Uncle Sam” eventually became synonymous with the federal government.

Decades later, a political cartoonist popularized the image of Uncle Sam— with the white beard, stars and stripes suit, and top hat. The same cartoonist, Thomas Nast (who was German) also created the modern image of Santa Claus, as well as the Democratic donkey and Republican elephant.

During WWI, the Uncle Sam image was greatly popularized when it was used with the slogan “I want you for the U.S. Army” for recruitment purposes. With over four million copies printed, this effort has been called the “most famous poster in the world.” Uncle Sam was officially adopted as a national symbol of the U.S. in 1950.

Troy, NY now calls itself, “The Home of Uncle Sam.”

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From the National Archives:

#ICYMI: Today’s Document was featured in timemagazine's 30 Tumblrs to Follow in 2013!
Not only can you “impress your friends over cocktails,” we can also attest that Today’s Document will give you a formidable advantage when playing those high stakes games of furlough Trivial Pursuit (original Genus edition).

Image description: If you’re looking for a great read, check out the National Archives Today’s Document Tumblr. You’ll find pictures and videos highlighting unique moments in history. Plus Time Magazine just named the blog one of 30 Tumblrs to Follow in 2013!

From the National Archives:

#ICYMI: Today’s Document was featured in timemagazine's 30 Tumblrs to Follow in 2013!

Not only can you “impress your friends over cocktails,” we can also attest that Today’s Document will give you a formidable advantage when playing those high stakes games of furlough Trivial Pursuit (original Genus edition).