Friday, January 29, 2010

The Real Uncle Sam

During the war of 1812, Sam Wilson had a contract to supply meat to U.S. troops: salted beef and pork ready to ship out in barrels. To identify the barrels, Wilson assigned a worker to letter them with the initials U.S.; for "United States." That abbreviation wasn't as common as it is today, and when people asked the man doing the lettering what it meant, he joked that it really stood for Uncle Sam, the kindly meat packer's nickname.

The joke got around with amazing speed (no Internet then). Within months the phrase began to appear in political cartoons and newspaper editorials. People started referring to all government property as belonging to Uncle Sam. Soldiers starting calling themselves "Uncle Sam's boys." In no time at all, the meat packer's nickname become the country's nickname.

In early drawings, Uncle Sam appeared clean-shaven, in black. Later he wore the colors of the flag. In the Civil War, cartoonist Thomas Nast drew him gaunt and bearded like Abe Lincoln. The most famous Uncle Sam is actually a self-portrait of artist James Montgomery Flagg.

Remember it all started with an entrepreneur!


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