Uncle Sam: American Symbol, American Icon

The United States has many symbols, including the bald eagle, the Statue of Liberty, and the Liberty Bell. However, there is one that has been featured in a recruiting poster, served as a symbol of patriotism, and is a personification of the government of the United States of America. This symbol is Uncle Sam.

Uncle Sam was supposedly based on a real person, Sam Wilson, a businessman during the War of 1812. Though the image of Uncle Sam was made popular by Thomas Nast and the cartoonists of Puck Magazine, the portrait of Uncle Sam created by James Montgomery Flagg for the July 6, 1916, issue of Leslie’s Weekly soon led to Uncle Sam’s iconic status. The image was used to encourage men to enlist in the military and to encourage civilian support for the entry of the U.S. into World War I. Uncle Sam was officially adopted as a national symbol of the United States of America in 1950.

The Library’s Teachers Page has a primary source set that features the symbols of the United States of America.

Here are some other activities you might try with your students:

  • Encourage your students to look at the different images of Uncle Sam provided in this post. Based on their analysis of the images, what characteristics do they think Uncle Sam represents?
  • Ask your students why they think Uncle Sam became a national symbol. Do they think he would be an effective symbol now?
  • Challenge your students to design a costume for a person that symbolizes the United States of America. What would he or she look like?




  1. FYI
    July 1, 2014 at 11:07 am

    3 of the 4 image links are busted

  2. Danna Bell
    July 1, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Thanks for letting us know. The busted links should be working normally again.

  3. David Steve Matthe
    July 1, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    I tried to look for Uncle Sam in Collier’s Dictionary to get more information
    about him and read “The personification of the government of the United
    States of America”; he was represented as a tall, lean man with chin whiskers wearing a plug hat, blue swallow-tailored coat, and red-and-blue
    strapped pant. He was a businessman during the War of 1812.

    Thomas Nast, Cartoonists Plug Magazine and the Portrait of Uncle Sam which was created by James Montgomery Flagg in 1916 around World War I led Uncle Sam to the iconic status. Uncle Sam became one
    of the popular men in the 19th century and made history of the United States of America. He was exclusive and that made him Uncle Sam of the United States of America.

  4. Jerry D. Hill
    September 8, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Is Uncle Sam breaking our Flag Laws about making clothing out of the flag?

  5. Danna Bell
    September 9, 2014 at 11:59 am

    I would encourage you to use the Ask A Librarian service for assistance in getting an answer to your question.

  6. Mark
    January 8, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    I found a very good lesson plan on symbolism, from the I Have a Dream speech on the Scholastic website. It has students creating a political cartoon based on a sentence containing symbolism in the speech. My guess would be 4th grade and up on this lesson, probably one-two days for lesson basics, longer for in-depth discussion.

  7. Mark H.
    May 23, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    To clarify Uncle Sam is wearing clothing made out of fabric colored Red, White and Blue. It is not made from an actual flag.

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