Uncle Sam

J. M. Flagg's 1917 poster was based on the original British Lord Kitchener poster of three years earlier. It was used to recruit soldiers for both World War I and World War II. Flagg used a modified version of his own face for Uncle Sam,[1] and veteran Walter Botts provided the pose.[2]

Uncle Sam (initials U.S.) is a common national personification of the American government or the United States in general that, according to legend, came into use during the War of 1812 and was supposedly named for Samuel Wilson. The actual origin is by a legend.[3] Since the early 19th century, Uncle Sam has been a popular symbol of the US government in American culture and a manifestation of patriotic emotion.[4] While the figure of Uncle Sam represents specifically the government, Columbia represents the United States as a nation.

The first reference to Uncle Sam in formal literature (as distinct from newspapers) was in the 1816 allegorical book The Adventures of Uncle Sam, in Search After His Lost Honor by Frederick Augustus Fidfaddy, Esq.[5] Other possible references date to the American Revolutionary War: an Uncle Sam is mentioned as early as 1775, in the original lyrics of "Yankee Doodle",[6] though it is not clear whether this reference is to Uncle Sam as a metaphor for the United States, or to an actual person named Sam. The lyrics as a whole celebrate the military efforts of the young nation in besieging the British at Boston. The 13th stanza is:

Old Uncle Sam come there to change
Some pancakes and some onions,
For 'lasses cakes, to carry home
To give his wife and young ones.[7]

Earlier personifications


The earliest known personification of the United States was as a woman named Columbia, who first appeared in 1738 (pre-USA) and sometimes was associated with another female personification, Lady Liberty. With the American Revolutionary War came Brother Jonathan, a male personification, and Uncle Sam finally appeared after the War of 1812.[8] Columbia appeared with either Brother Jonathan or Uncle Sam, but her use declined as a national personification in favor of Liberty, and she was effectively abandoned once she became the mascot of Columbia Pictures in the 1920s.

According to an article in the 1893 The Lutheran Witness, Uncle Sam was simply another name for Brother Jonathan:

When we meet him in politics we call him Uncle Sam; when we meet him in society we call him Brother Jonathan. Here of late Uncle Sam alias Brother Jonathan has been doing a powerful lot of complaining, hardly doing anything else. [sic][9]

A March 24, 1810 journal entry by Isaac Mayo states:

weighed anchor stood down the harbour, passed Sandy Hook, where there are two light-houses, and put to sea, first and second day out most deadly seasick, oh could I have got on shore in the hight [sic] of it, I swear that uncle Sam, as they call him, would certainly forever have lost the services of at least one sailor.[10]

Other Languages
العربية: العم سام
asturianu: Tíu Sam
azərbaycanca: Sem dayı
беларуская: Дзядзька Сэм
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Дзядзька Сэм
български: Чичо Сам
brezhoneg: Uncle Sam
català: Oncle Sam
čeština: Strýček Sam
Cymraeg: Wncl Sam
dansk: Uncle Sam
Deutsch: Uncle Sam
Ελληνικά: Θείος Σαμ
español: Tío Sam
Esperanto: Uncle Sam
euskara: Osaba Sam
فارسی: عمو سام
français: Oncle Sam
한국어: 엉클 샘
հայերեն: Քեռի Սեմ
hrvatski: Uncle Sam
Bahasa Indonesia: Paman Sam
íslenska: Sámur frændi
italiano: Zio Sam
עברית: הדוד סם
latviešu: Tēvocis Sems
lietuvių: Dėdė Semas
magyar: Uncle Sam
മലയാളം: അങ്കിൾ സാം
Mirandés: Tiu Sam
Nederlands: Uncle Sam
norsk: Uncle Sam
occitan: Oncle Sam
پنجابی: انکل سام
polski: Wuj Sam
português: Tio Sam
русский: Дядя Сэм
Scots: Uncle Sam
Simple English: Uncle Sam
српски / srpski: Ујка Сем
svenska: Onkel Sam
Tagalog: Uncle Sam
українська: Дядько Сем
اردو: چچا سام
Tiếng Việt: Chú Sam
中文: 山姆大叔