The use of the fictional figure Uncle Sam as the personification United States has been quite common for more than a hundred years. No one knows for sure how the use of the name began, but there is a particular legend that details the origins of the name and appears in print in the 1840s, and this legend may actually be a true story.
The Legend of Uncle Sam
According to the legend, a contractor named Elbert Anderson was supplying goods and rations to the United States Army during the War of 1812. On the barrels and boxes that were used to store the goods, Anderson stamped his initials “E.A.,” and right next to it is “U.S.” for the United States. Someone asked him what those letters meant, and he answered in a joking manner that it is supposed to mean “Elbert Anderson and Uncle Sam.” The contractor may have gotten the “Uncle Sam” term from the name of Samuel Wilson, who was an old gentleman that served as the local inspector of army supplies.
Whether this story is true or false, people stuck with this legend as the origin for the name, and Uncle Sam soon spread across the country as the most popular personification of the United States. During Uncle Sam’s heyday, he was pictured as a tall and slender old gentleman with a thin beard and was dressed in old fashioned clothes with a tall hat. Some would even say that Uncle Sam has a close resemblance to Abraham Lincoln, one of the U.S.’s most popular presidents. The depiction of Uncle Sam in modern times has him wearing clothes that look like the American Flag, with his pants being the stripes and the best underneath his coat being the stars. Nowadays, this figure is recognized everywhere and around the world as a representation of the United States.
Uncle Sam is so important in the history of the United States that an “Uncle Sam Day” was dedicated to the character on September 13, 1989, which was also the birthdate of Samuel Wilson. The special day is still being celebrated in several states in the U.S., especially in Massachusetts, where the Uncle Sam Memorial Statue is built.
Before Uncle Sam
Before the “birth” of Uncle Sam, there have been two female figures that served as the personification of the country in the 1700s. The first one was Columbia, a goddess-like person who wears the American Flag like a dress. The name of this figure inspired many people that establish locations and building in the U.S. to be named after her, and some of those are the District of Columbia (home of the White House) and Columbia University (one of the most prestigious institutions in the U.S.). Columbia Pictures is also named after her, and many believe that the logo of the company features her wearing a white and blue drape while carrying a lit torch.
The second figure was Lady Liberty, who resembles Columbia in terms of facial features and outfit. Lady Liberty is said to be based upon the appearance of the Roman goddess Libertas found in ancient Roman coins. Other elements found in the personification of other countries are also mixed into the look of Lady Liberty, such as the cap of liberty that is worn by the Dutch Maiden of the Netherlands, and the Phrygian cap that is worn by figures that represented the French Revolution.
The most famous depiction of Lady Liberty is the Statue of Liberty, a neoclassical sculpture that is made of copper and is a gift given by France to the United States. The metal framework that prevents the statues from crumbling is built and designed by Gustave Eiffel, who is mostly known as the designer of the Eiffel Tower that was built for the Paris Universal Exposition in 1889. The exterior of the statue was sculpted by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. The Statue of Liberty is located in Liberty Island in Manhattan, New York City, and was built in 1886, three years before the creation of the Eiffel Tower. The colossal statue is arguably one of the most popular tourist attractions not only in New York but also in the entire United States of America.
- Uncle Sam (Wikipedia)