uncle sam history

19 Uncle Sam Propaganda Posters + History (I Want YOU!)

Uncle Sam poster history + designs: When it comes to taxes, you probably think of paying them to your humorless and strict uncle, Sam. So, who is Uncle Sam, and what’s his history?

The iconic figure of Uncle Sam has a long, interesting history, dating all the way back to the War of 1812. Since then he’s been an iconic symbol of the U.S. government, tax collection, and has appeared on millions of army recruitment posters during WWI.

In fact, the inspiration for the character of Uncle Sam, named Samuel Wilson, is still celebrated in his hometown of Troy, NY.

Here’s a brief history of Uncle Sam, and then a history of Uncle Sam in posters:

History of Uncle Sam Posters (The Man, the Myth… Your Uncle!?)

During the war of 1812, a meatpacker from Troy, NY named Samuel Wilson supplied the U.S. Army with barrels of beef. In doing so, he stamped the barrels with large, “U.S.” initials, and soldiers began to refer to the food as, “Uncle Sam.”

Soon, the name, “Uncle Sam,” stuck, and by the 1820’s, “Uncle Sam,” had gained widespread acceptance as the nickname for the U.S. government.

Fact: Uncle Sam’s origin lies in a meatpacking plant in Troy New York in 1812. To this day Troy, NY is celebrated as, “The Birthplace of Uncle Sam.”

welcome troy ny uncle sam

Inspiration for the Image of Uncle Sam?

Later, in the late 1860s, a political cartoonist named Thomas Nast began popularizing the now familiar image of Uncle Sam as a combination of Revolutionary War figures Brother Johnathan and Yankee Doodle.

brother johnathan yankee doodle

*Fun fact: Did you know that Uncle Sam creator, Thomas Nast, is also credited with creating the modern image of Santa Claus?!

However, the most famous image of the stern, pointing Uncle Sam would be created by James Montgomery Flagg years later. Flagg designed it as a recruiting poster for WWI, seemingly based on the similar British recruitment posters that featured Lord Kitchener.

lord kitchener
james montgomery flagg

However, Flagg swapped out Lord Kitchener and instead created a new version of Uncle Sam that he painted from a self-portrait.

Standing before a mirror, Flagg reportedly donned a fake goatee and the star-spangled hat, and painted his own reflection to create this updated, and now most-famous version of Uncle Sam!

Flagg was apparently a bit conceited, and was especially proud of his prominent eyebrows, which helped to achieve Uncle Sam’s accusatory expression:

First Uncle Sam Portrait: (James Montgomery Flagg)

The completed portrait was first printed on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly in July 1916, asking readers, What are YOU doing for preparedness?

leslies uncle sam cover

Within months America would join the First World War, and the image would be adopted as a recruitment poster for the U.S. Army, along with the I Want YOU for U.S. Army caption.

Did you know? In 1917 and 1918, a staggering 4 million copies of the famous Uncle Sam propaganda poster would be printed!

Uncle Sam Posters: (WWI Recruiting, Buy Bonds, U.S. Propaganda)

To this day “Uncle Sam” remains a nickname for the U.S. Government, and a symbol of tax collection in America. Our stern and patriotic Uncle Sam reminds us to roll up our sleeves and do our part for America; whether that be buying war bonds, or paying our taxes.

Here are the best U.S. propaganda posters featuring every American’s favorite grumpy Uncle, Sam.

Uncle Sam: ENLIST! WWI Recruitment Poster

uncle sam us propaganda poster

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Uncle Sam: I WANT YOU!

uncle sam us propaganda poster

What font is used in the Uncle Sam poster? While the original letters seem to have been illustrated by hand, there is a font called Expressway Condensed Bold that replicates the type

Uncle Sam: YOU’RE NEXT! War Loan Poster

uncle sam propaganda poster

Uncle Sam Poster: Defend America’s Freedom!

uncle sam propaganda poster american freedom

*Why TurboTax is Not Usually Free

Uncle Sam Poster: Buy War Bonds / Stamps (Creepy!?)

uncle sam us propaganda poster

Creepy Uncle Sam WWI

creepy uncle sam poster

Hey kids, come into your Uncle Sam’s van! I have a puppy for you to see! It’s just over there next to my friends from the theater troupe.

Date w/ Uncle Sam: Coast Guard Recruitment Poster

date uncle sam poster

Related: Interesting History of the Famous Death and Taxes Quote

No Room for RUMORS! Uncle Sam WWI Propaganda Poster

uncle sam us wwii propaganda poster

*Related: We have coupons for 20% off TurboTax and 50% off H&R Block!

BUY WAR BONDS! Uncle Sam Poster WWII

uncle sam propaganda poster

Uncle Sam Propaganda Poster: Shhh!

uncle sam us propaganda poster

Uncle Sam Passive Aggressive Army Recruitment Poster

uncle sam us propaganda poster

*Coupon: I want you to get 50% off a print or digital WSJ subscription!

Uncle Sam Zombie: VOLUNTEER Recruitment Poster:

uncle sam recruitment poster wwi

James Montgomery Flagg as Uncle Sam Painting – Flexing Bicep:

uncle sam painting james flagg
samuel wilson grave troy ny

*Fact: Samuel Wilson, aka “Uncle Sam,” was buried in Troy, NY in 1863 at age 88. People still put pennies on his grave, apparently as some kind of post-mortem tax offering?

Uncle Sam & Britannia WWI: U.S. Propaganda Poster

uncle sam britannia propaganda

uncle sam propaganda wwi preserve

Uncle Sam Pearl Harbor Poster WWII:

uncle sam wwii pearl harbor poster

Uncle Sam WWI Red Star Animal Relief Poster:

uncle sam us propaganda red star wwi

Uncle Sam Judge Magazine Cover (James Montgomery Flagg)

uncle sam american propaganda judge
uncle sam fist wwi poster

OK, that’s the history of Uncle Sam, and what I think are the best Uncle Sam poster designs; mostly recruiting posters from WWI. If you know of an Uncle Sam poster that we should add to the list, let us know.

About kevin

Hi, I'm Kevin McCormick. I graduated from Rutgers U., and now live in Philadelphia with my wife, three kids, and a dog. I enjoy blogging in my free time, especially about finance and the history of taxation. Thanks for stopping by Mighty Taxes!