No one is completely certain how the character 'Uncle Sam' was created; or who, if anyone, he was named after. The prevailing theory is that Uncle Sam was named after Samuel Wilson. Samuel Wilson was born in Arlington, Massachusetts, USA, on 13 September, 1766. His childhood home was in Mason, New Hampshire.
During the War of 1812, Wilson was in the business of slaughtering and packing meat. He provided large shipments of meat to the US Army, in barrels that were stamped with the initials 'US'
Supposedly, someone who saw the 'US' stamp suggested that the initials 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.
Samuel Wilson died in 1854. His grave is in the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, New York. To find his grave, enter the cemetery from the Oakwood Avenue entrance, then follow the road to the right. You'll see signs that point the way towards Sam Wilson's grave. Look for a waist-height, rectangular monument with a brass plaque set in its front. Wilson's grave is nearby. The monument was erected in 1931 by Wilson's grand-daughter, Marion Wilson Sheldon. Samuel Wilson's headstone is very plain and small, as is that of his wife Betsey Mann. Both headstones lie flat on the ground.
Uncle Sam's traditional appearance, a tall, thin figure with a white goatee and star-spangled suit, is an invention of artists and political cartoonists; Samuel Wilson did not look like the modern image of Uncle Sam. Wilson was clean-shaven and more modest in his attire.
Thomas Nast, a prominent 19th-century political cartoonist, produced many of the earliest cartoons of Uncle Sam. Some have suggested that Dan Rice, a 19th-century clown, inspired Thomas Nast's Uncle Sam cartoons. Rice's clown costume consisted of a hat and star-spangled suit, much like the costume worn by Uncle Sam.
However, Rice was born in 1823, and did not begin clowning until 1844; and Uncle Sam cartoons appeared as early as 1838. Therefore, it seems unlikely that Rice was, in fact, the inspiration for Nast's cartoons.
The single most famous portrait of Uncle Sam is the 'I Want You' Army recruiting poster from World War I. The poster was painted by James Montgomery Flagg in 1916 - 1917.
Uncle Sam is also featured prominently in the artwork of the Grateful Dead. But that's another story.