According to its creator, James Montgomery Flagg, the portrait went on to become “the most famous poster in the world.”
The portrait to which he referred is of an elderly man with white hair and a goatee wearing a top hat with white stars on a blue band, and red and white striped trousers. None other than “Uncle Sam” himself.
Originally printed in the magazine Leslie’s Weeklyunder the title “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” the poster was renamed to “I Want You” when it began its career as a recruitment image. Over four million copies were printed between 1917 and 1918, and the image was also used extensively during World War II to encourage men to join the ranks.
Perhaps one of the most iconic American images, “Uncle Sam” bears resemblance to Flagg as well as to Samuel Wilson, who purportedly inspired the character.
As the story goes… during World War I, Sam Wilson was a meat packer living and working in Troy, New York. Each barrel of meat rations was stamped “US” before it was shipped to American soldiers. The soldiers of that time equated their United States supplied rations with Uncle Sam Wilson. The story grew to mythological proportions, resulting in a somewhat fictional image of Sam Wilson emerging as the white bearded, red-white-and-blue clad symbol of America.
The 87th Congress of the United States adopted the following resolution on September 15, 1961:
“Resolved by the Senate and 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.”
In terms of defining America, Uncle Sam is right up there with the bald eagle and the stars and stripes.