Saturday, September 13, 2008

Happy Birthday "Uncle Sam"

Old uncle Sam come there to change
Some pancakes and some onions,
For lasses calves, to carry home
To give his wife and young ones. ”
Father & I Song (stanza 10)
(early version of Yankee Doodle Dandy 1789)

One of the most recognized National symbols of the United States of America is depicted as a tall thin elderly man with white hair and a goatee. Draped in a blue tailcoat with red and white striped trousers and a tall hat with a band of stars, Uncle Sam proudly flaunts the colors of the American flag. The iconic symbolic image of the United States is said to be associated with a man by the name of Sam Wilson who was born on this day, September 13 in 1766. Yes, dear visitors, legend has it that Uncle Sam, the character, was indeed inspired by a true to life person who sold meat to the U.S. Army during the war of 1812.

Samual Wilson

What else do we know about Samuel Wilson? Well, we know Sam Wilson was a leading hometown citizen of Troy, New York. We also know "Uncle Sam" Wilson was a man of great fairness, reliability, and honesty, who was devoted to his country. According a biography of Samuel Wilson no longer available online, I learned,  "Sam Wilson was was born in Arlington, Mass., on September 13, 1766. His childhood home was in Mason, New Hampshire. In 1789, he and his brother Ebenezer walked to Troy, New York." There is much debate as to the origin of Uncle Sam; the person, the myth and the nickname. The most noted discrepancies appear to be rooted in Indiana and New York. As a matter of fact, it eventually took an act of congress to resolve the dispute. On September 15, 1961, Congress passed a resolution that recognized Samuel Wilson of Troy, New York as the inspiration for the symbol Uncle Sam. John F. Kennedy signed the bill. On that date, the 87th US Congress passed the following Congressional Resolution: "Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives that the Congress salutes Uncle Sam Wilson of Troy, New York, as the progenitor of America's National Symbol of Uncle Sam."

Perhaps, we should step back a moment and review an article written by Albert Matthews in 1908. Since it is a PDF file, I will highlight some of the article below.

Arising in obscure ways, often originating in derision or abuse or satire, sometimes repudiated by those to whom they are applied, at other times adopted in spite of the ridicule, the origin of nicknames is singularly elusive, and there are few words or phrases of which it is more difficult to trace the history. Moreover, nicknames are almost invariably associated in the popular mind with some person or place or thing having a similar name; and so a problem already difficult is made doubly so by the necessity of attempting to obtain information about very obscure persons. The history of nicknames usually follows one general course: those who, at the time of origin, perhaps know the real explanation, fail to record it, and then, a generation or so having passed by and the true origin having been forgotten, a series of guesses is indulged in...In Yankee, Brother Jonathan, and Uncle Sam, we Americans have perhaps more than our fair share of national sobriquets; and we are, so far as I am aware, the only nation to the government of which a sobriquet has been given in distinction from“the people. For while Uncle Sam has occasionally been applied to us as a nation, its use is almost wholly restricted to our government.

"Uncle Sam' a synonym for the United States?

Today, the image of Uncle Sam is a symbolic name standing for the government of the United States of America. Historians are not certain where the image of Uncle Sam originated, or who (if anyone) he was named after. Some say he is actually an adaptation of Brother Jonathan and even earlier National symbol.

The history of Brother Jonathan involves an inquiry into an. alleged English poet of the seventeenth century; a London coffee-house of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries named Jonathan’s; Jonathan Hastings, a tanner who lived in Cambridge early in the eighteenth century; Jonathan Carver, the noted traveller; and Jonathan Trumbull, the distinguished Governor of Connecticut.’ source: Albert Matthews; 1908

Although, Thomas Nast, a prominent cartoonist of the time, had a hand in how Uncle Sam looks today, one of the most famous portrayals of Uncle Sam was the “I Want You” World War I Army recruiting poster painted by James Montgomery Flagg an illustrator and portrait artist best known for commercial art. His image of Uncle Sam was shown publicly for the first time on the cover of the magazine Leslie's Weekly, on July 6, 1916, with the caption "What Are You Doing for Preparedness?" It should be noted, Flagg once said he stood as his own model for the recruitment poster in order to save money. The poster was used during World War I and later in World War II.

During the War of 1812, Samuel Wilson was a businessman from Troy, NY that supplied the U.S. Army with beef in barrels. The barrels were labeled "U.S." When asked what the initials stood for, one of Wilson's workers said it stood for Uncle Sam Wilson. The suggestion that the meat shipments came from "Uncle Sam" led to the idea that Uncle Sam symbolized the Federal Government and association stuck. In 1961, Congress passed a resolution that recognized Samuel Wilson as the inspiration for the symbol Uncle Sam. source

The story connecting the portrait of Uncle Sam with "Uncle Sam" Wilson (Samuel Wilson) is said to have first appeared in print in 1842. But, as the legend goes, Samuel Wilson was suppose to have been owner of a meat packing plant which was contracted to send canned meat provisions along with other barrels of stamped beef to troops during the War of 1812. It seems to be a long time in between for Mr. Wilson. There's a wonderful article written by Cecil Adams at the Straight Dope website which sheds some light on this notion and the timeline.

Before considering the Samuel Wilson story, let us see what the history of the term Uncle Sam has actually been. For sixty-six years the statement has been repeated that the nickname arose at the outbreak of the war of 1812, varied occasionally by the assertion that the term originated during the Revolutionary War. Both statements are incorrect, as the term is not known to have been used until the war of 1812 was half over; but the nickname certainly did originate during that war. Moreover, for a year or so it was avoided by those who favored- the war, and was employed only by those who opposed the war. Hence the term was at first apparently used somewhat derisively... source: Albert Matthews; 1908

The theory that business man Samuel Wilson, his employees and the American forces in the war of 1812 sparked the events leading up to the nickname of the federal government of the United States of America remains a celebration of American patriotism still displayed at a yearly parade on the birthday of Samuel Wilson in his hometown of Troy, New York. I for one do not want to grinch these beliefs. Do you? I'm aware that I have left you sort of in limbo about the conclusion of Mr. Matthews' article. I have done this on purpose. If you are still curious as to the outcome of the Uncle Sam mystery name, I do suggest you read the PDF file (link below) which is really not too long, and contains many newspaper citations and published prose. It's actually quite fascinating. As for me, I just want to share some recipes ==) :-)=

Some visitors may be familiar with the Are You Eating Right? Uncle Sam recipe booklet which I pictured to celebrate Sylvester Graham's birthdate back in July. Since that post was more about s'mores and moon pies, I didn't really get a chance to share the enclosed recipes. The leaflet is actually an advertising premium for Durkee Margarine produced by the Durkee Famous Foods Company of Ohio. Although it is undated, it does make reference to The National Nutrition Conference held in Washington in May of 1941. I'm sure it had to do with the state of food rations which were being exercised during the war. I thought you might find it interesting to view how Durkee Famous Foods interpreted the American Model Menu.

As for the recipes, there are only four included. The rest of the leaflet is enclosed with Durkee free gifts which you can receive with the saved coupons found on the Durkee Margarine package. Since it fit quite snugly on the scanner, it is also pictured below.

I've chosen the recipe for Vegetable Chipped Beef Platter since Sam Wilson was allegedly a beef purveyor. For those of you not acquainted with Chipped Beef follow the link. Although chipped beef is not one of my old time favorites, it sure is quick and easy to prepare. I also like the inclusion of cabbage in the following recipe. Enjoy!
Vegetable Chipped Beef Platter
4 tbs. durkee's Margarine
4 tbs. flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup dried chipped beef
1 large or 2 small heads cabbage
Prepare chipped beef sauce by melting margarine and stirring in flour until smooth. Add milk and cook over hot water 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chipped beef. Arrange wedges of cabbage, that have been cooked 15 minutes on large platter. Arrange cooked whole carrots in spke formation at ends of platter. Season vegetables well with melted Durkee's Margarine and pour chipped beef sauce over all. Garnish with parsley. Serves 8.

1. Meet the Real Uncle Sam
2. Symbols of the U.S.A.
3. The Straight Dope: What's the origin of Uncle Sam?
4. Thomas Nast
5. Uncle Sam by Albert Matthews (1908)


  1. What a terrific booklet!

    I am not a great fan on chipped beef either. I believe creamed chipped beef came in cans in the 1960s as my mother used to put it on toast and call it dinner quite often. Rather too often for my liking!

  2. Fascinating information. I confess I really knew nothing about the origins of Uncle Sam. And, with all the citations you found, you have confirmed that he truly is a legendary character! Given the state of things, he might be due for a comeback!

  3. Great post about Uncle Sam--I knew tidbits but you've pulled it all together nicely for us. I also never knew Durkee offered premium gifts--I enjoyed seeing their offerings. We never had chipped beef, but I do remember plenty of those boil-in-bag turkey and gravy packages that we put over toast.

  4. Hi Lidian
    Thanks for visiting. I too remember those cans of chipped beef more than I would like to... ah...the 60's

    I'm so glad you enjoyed your visit T.W. I'm all for good ol' Uncle Sam re-emerging NOW!

    Oh my goodness. My sister, who is not the most formidable of cooks, always had a freezer full of those boil n bags. Thanks for stopping by...

  5. I just bought a Durkee's Oleomargarine advertising postcard a few days ago. The front has a Southern Spoon Bread recipe and a picture of the margarine package. The back has a "Dear Mrs. Housewife" letter. The first paragraph has the exact same wording as part of the leaflet "When you consider…save without sacrifice." It was postmarked FEB26'42.

  6. That sounds like such a fun postcard; Postcardy. Will you be sharing the Spoon Bread recipe??

  7. Your blog is fascinating. I've learned another thing about Uncle Sam. Thank you for the info.


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise