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September 13, 2013


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Natalie Elder

Thanks for the question! The Library of Congress has this (http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/british/britintr.html) to say about Uncle Sam’s dress and hair style: “…the cartoonists of Punch [a British satirical magazine] helped develop the figure, showing him as a lean, whiskered man wearing a top hat and striped pants. The famous American cartoonist Thomas Nast crystallized the image with his cartoons beginning in the 1870s.”

Over the years, people have also compared Uncle Sam’s appearance with that of Abraham Lincoln and in 1917 a relative of Sam Wilson said that he resembled Lincoln. It’s difficult to know how true this is because we have no contemporary depictions of the “real” Uncle Sam Wilson. But it’s easy to understand why Americans would want to associate a national symbol with Abraham Lincoln’s characteristic honesty and steadfastness.

Finally, the Uncle Sam that appears in Flagg’s poster is based on Flagg himself. The artist used his own face as a model to save money!


What a fascinating article! I wonder where the Uncle Sam iconography - the beard, curly white hair, etc. come from. Do you think Uncle Sam the icon derived his physical attributes from Uncle Sam the man?

Natalie Elder

So glad you enjoyed the post and learned something, Will Brown! Flagg was part of a group of artists, led by Charles Dana Gibson, who created posters for the Division of Pictorial Publicity. This group fell under a larger propaganda organization called the Committee on Public Information. This committee was established by President Woodrow Wilson before the start of the war and operated as an independent government agency through 1918.

In addition to civilian artists who donated their time and talents to the war effort, the American Expeditionary Force commissioned eight artists to record the events of the front lines. Works from these artists are featured on collections.si.edu: http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=set_name:"Official+Art+from+the+American+Expeditionary+Forces+in+World+War+I"


Will Brown

Interesting post! I'd never thought of the Uncle Sam/Smokey Bear connection, but looking at them now it makes sense that one would mimic the expression, gesture, and success of the other. Any idea how the original drawing got from the newsweekly to the U.S. government? Was there a propaganda division within the army or the War Department that kept a look-out for useful art, or did Flagg submit the illustration himself?

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