Uncle Sam wishes you a Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Illustration by James Montgomery Flagg (1917)

Uncle Sam is one of the most familiar and enduring symbols of America. The illustration that people know best was created by artist James Montgomery Flagg in 1917, as a recruitment tool for the Army during World War I and reused during World War II.

Patriotic-sounding artist James Montgomery Flagg photographed by Arnold Genthe

The origins of Uncle Sam are a little fuzzy, and the closest anyone has been able to determine is that the character was based on a meatpacker from Troy, NY called Samuel Wilson (1766 – 1858). Wilson supplied rations to the American soldiers during the War of 1812.

Uncle Sam Wilson

 

This Uncle Sam resides at Musée Mécanique in San Francisco, and he is a symbol of patriotism, psychology, and divination all rolled into one.

In exchange for a few quarters and a handshake, he’ll look deep into your soul and reveal whether you are Sweet or Gay or any number of other things. Be warned, though: he’s not exactly a reliable judge of character. Rather than accurately labeling me as Lovable, Uncle Sam inexplicably described me as Sly.


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