The original Uncle Sam and comic book hero each have a colorful story. One we celebrate today with the presidentially proclaimed Uncle Sam Day.
Uncle Sam began as slang to identify barrels of meat supplied to soldiers during the War of 1812. The recently formed United States of America was shortened to the stamped U.S. on the barrels. Soldiers began to identify these as being from Uncle Sam, aka meat packer Samuel Wilson of New York.
The first depiction of Uncle Sam appeared in Harper’s Weekly for a political cartoon. Thomas Nast is credited with the version we know today, bedecked in top hat and striped pants.
Montgomery Flagg was the artist who portrayed the steely-eyed, stern Sam on the iconic “I Want You for the U.S. Army” posters proliferating America during World War I.
Our Uncle was originally published by Quality Comics in 1940. This four-colored Sam was rumored to be the ghost of a Revolutionary War soldier who died fighting for the new nation from England.
Sam jumped ship for DC in 1950 when National Periodicals bought out Quality and its stable of characters. He wouldn’t see much print before the 1970s when he became a supporting member of the Justice League of America.
As the U.S. began obsessing over the bicentennial, Sam returned leader of the Freedom Fighters.
The character continued to undergo various incarnations over the years, based on the whims of writers.
On Sept. 13, 1989, President George H.W. Bush signed Uncle Sam Day into existence. Samuel Wilson’s birthday was used as the date, which coincided with the bicentennial of his birth city Troy, NY.