On this day in 1813, the United States gets its nickname, Uncle Sam. The name is linked to Samuel Wilson, a meat packer from Troy, New York, who supplied barrels of beef to the United States Army during the War of 1812. Wilson (1766-1854) stamped the barrels with "U.S." for United States, but soldiers began referring to the grub as "Uncle Sam's." The local newspaper picked up on the story and Uncle Sam eventually gained widespread acceptance as the nickname for the U.S. federal government. In the late 1860s and 1870s, political cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902) began popularising the image of Uncle Sam. Nast continued to evolve the image, eventually giving Sam the white beard and stars-and-stripes suit that are associated with the character today.
The German-born Nast was also credited with creating the modern image of Santa Claus as well as coming up with the donkey as a symbol for the Democratic Party and the elephant as a symbol for the Republicans. Nast also famously lampooned the corruption of New York City's Tammany Hall in his editorial cartoons and was, in part, responsible for the downfall of Tammany leader William Tweed. Perhaps the most famous image of Uncle Sam was created by artist James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960). In Flagg's version, Uncle Sam wears a tall top hat and blue jacket and is pointing straight ahead at the viewer. During World War I, this portrait of Sam with the words "I Want You For The U.S. Army" was used as a recruiting poster.
The image, which became immensely popular, was first used on the cover of Leslie's Weekly in July 1916 with the title "What Are You Doing for Preparedness?" The poster was widely distributed and has subsequently been re-used numerous times with different captions. In September 1961, the U.S. Congress recognised Samuel Wilson as "the progenitor of America's national symbol of Uncle Sam." Wilson died at age 88 in 1854, and was buried next to his wife Betsey Mann in the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, New York, the town that calls itself "The Home of Uncle Sam."
Also on this Day
On September 7, 1977, the United States signs a treaty with Panama agreeing to transfer control of the Panama Canal to Panama in 2000. In 1903, America's desire to build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama, then controlled by Colombia, led U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt to support a Panamanian revolt against Colombian rule. Panama won independence and immediately signed the Hay-Bunau-Varill... Read more >
On this day, French poet Guillaume Apollinaire is arrested and jailed on suspicion of stealing Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from the Louvre museum in Paris. The 31-year-old poet was known for his radical views and support for extreme avant-garde art movements, but his origins were shrouded in mystery. Today, it is believed he was born in Rome and raised in Italy. He appeared in Paris at age ... Read more >
Bishop Desmond Tutu becomes the archbishop of Cape Town, two years after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent opposition to apartheid in South Africa. As archbishop, he was the first black to head South Africa’s Anglican church. In 1948, South Africa’s white minority government institutionalized its policy of racial segregation and white supremacy known as apartheid–Afrikaans ... Read more >
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One of the most notorious and unbelievable moments in the history of espionage occurred on this day in 1978. Bulgarian writer and broadcaster Georgi Markov was on his way to the BBC World Service headquarters in London, when he was stabbed with an umbrella while waiting at a bus stop on Waterloo Bridge. The baffled Markov felt a stinging sensat... Read more >