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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Happy Birthday, Uncle Sam

File:Uncle Sam (pointing finger).jpg

From the NYT:

The man who, legend has it, gave rise to the iconic symbol of the United States was born on Sept. 13, 1766, in Arlington, Mass.

Samuel Wilson was a meatpacker in upstate New York who helped feed American soldiers in the War of 1812, the fight between the United States and Britain that also inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

According to the legend, a worker wisecracked that the letters “U.S.” on Mr. Wilson’s shipping crates stood for “Uncle Sam” Wilson. The joke that the shipments came from Uncle Sam turned him into a stand-in for the federal government.

The somewhat random comment was picked up by others, and he started to appear in drawings in newspapers in the 1830s.

Thomas Nast, the cartoonist who gave us the donkey as a symbol for Democrats and the elephant for Republicans, made Uncle Sam’s goatee famous.

No matter that Mr. Wilson, who died in 1854, was clean-shaven. His name, but not his likeness, was turned into a patriotic symbol replicated forevermore in political cartoons, ads, posters and fine art.

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