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Image of Uncle Sam pointing
I Want You. James Montgomery Flagg, 1917

Uncle Sam: American Symbol, American Icon

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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.

Image of Uncle Saw with a girl and boy encouraging them to buy war savings stamps.
Boys and Girls: You can help Uncle Sam Win the War, 1917

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?


Image of Uncle Sam as banker selling Liberty Bonds
Invest your Money with Uncle Sam, 1917


Image of Uncle Sam running through fireworks with the tag line 142 years young and still going strong
Uncle Sam’s Birthday July 4th 1776-1918, 1918

Comments (13)

  1. 3 of the 4 image links are busted

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

  2. 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.

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

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

  4. 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.

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

  6. Our Country was in a time of dread, hardship and unrest—most true. This man Sam, did what he could do for his country. No doubt acceptance of this was in the mid 50’s when the official acceptance of this depiction was adopted by our country, the United States of America. This is a play now going on in today’s arena of government. This person builds the avenue for upward mobility beyond just feeding our military but to take care of them whom are injured after they leave service, absent for the past few decades. We are now there again, and one man/woman stands to replace the torch to prosperity with unequaled stride this country as seen in years.

  7. What is the meaning of red white and blue colors??what does it stand for??

  8. I like to know did Samuel Wilson on any slaves

  9. I might gently note in the interest of clarity that the great Thomas Nast was a cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly. Puck (and Judge) of course did frequently feature Uncle Sam a bit later, and other publications such as Yankee Notions featured him a bit earlier. The Sam Wilson story is generally considered apocryphal, as there are a few other versions of Uncle Sam’s origin that appear in print prior to that claim (and actually, they are likely all apocryphal. We just don’t know at this point).

  10. I am excited and proud of the Library of Congress;
    The US Constitution explicitly grants 116th Congress the power to create COPYRIGHT LAW.

    I work with and Government Publishing Office.

  11. Not diverse enuf. Should be Black

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