Bob’s research reveals source of nation’s nickname

 In light of the fact that we are fighting in two wars. and that necessitates huge quantities of food and supplies to be sent to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, I wondered how all of those thousands of boxes of foodstuffs were identified.  No doubt "U.S." is on each one – meaning the United States  or "Uncle Sam." 

My research turned up an interesting tidbit on the origin of "Uncle Sam." At the beginning of the War of 1812-15,  Elbert Anderson, a prosperous broker and  contractor living in York City, worked out an agreement with the Secretary of War to supply the United States Army with all its rations.  He advertised for sealed bids for 2,000 barrels of prime pork and 3,000 barrels of prime beef.

Low bidders turned out to be Ebenezer and Samuel Wilson, the owners of a successful packing house in Troy, New York. 

Samuel Wilson was a much-liked figure in Troy.  Everybody called him "Uncle Sam," but the fact that his initials and those of the United States were the same was not a matter of interest….


An employee of the Wilson firm noticed that the cask of meat being readied for Elbert Anderson were stamped "E.A. – U.S."

Now at this time the United States was not normally referred to as "U.S." So, when the workman asked a friend what the initials stood for, he was told they represented the names of the buyers and sellers of the meat.  Elbert Anderson and Uncle Sam (Wilson, of course.)

In this manner, the story goes, began the life of the Uncle Sam symbol.

A descendant of the original Uncle Sam described his ancestor in these words: "In form and carriage he greatly resembled Abraham Lincoln.  He was tall, well preserved and the type of well-to-do gentleman of his day.  He had high cheek bones, was clean shaven, and wore his grey hair long." 

Before the advent of Uncle Sam, the nickname used in connection with the United States was "Brother Jonathan."  However, the new designation struck the public fancy more!  And, so it is that "Uncle Sam" today represents the United States in the company of such opposite numbers as John Bull, Marianne, and the Russian Bear.

Now you know the rest of the story!

© 2009 Robert F. Karolevitz

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