“Uncle Sam” makes first appearance

Whether he was actually anyone’s uncle in unclear, but he was indeed named Sam. Samuel Wilson was a New York meatpacker who supplied barrels of the stuff, conspicuously marked “U.S.” to soldiers in the war of 1812. Soon enough they took to calling him “Uncle Sam.” That personification was given form by a cartoonist for the New York Lantern, Frank Bellew.

On this day, March 13, in 1852, a Bellew-drawn political cartoon featuring Uncle Sam appeared in an issue of the Lantern. In a criticism of the American policies on trade, Bellew portrayed “Uncle Sam”, representing the United States, as dithering while John Bull, a popular personification of Britain, was helping his country’s shipping.

Thomas Nast, the famed cartoonist for the New Yorker who also created the political party mascots and Santa Claus, is widely, but not quite correctly credited with creating the Uncle Sam archetype. Nast may have helped create the modern impression of the character, or popularize it, but he was just 12 years old when that cartoon appeared. And the image did not take hold in popular consciousness until the iconic “Uncle Sam Wants You” recruitment poster made by James Montgomery Flagg and replicated by the millions during WW I.