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?