uncle sam propaganda posters

21 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: 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

OK, so Uncle Sam was a nickname for the U.S. Government, but that’s just the beginning of his origin story.

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

First Uncle Sam Portrait by 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.

1. Uncle Sam: ENLIST! WWI Recruitment Poster

uncle sam us propaganda poster

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2. Uncle Sam I WANT YOU! Poster

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

3. Uncle Sam: YOU’RE NEXT! War Loan Poster

uncle sam propaganda poster

4. Uncle Sam Defend America’s Freedom! Poster

uncle sam propaganda poster american freedom

*Why TurboTax is Not Usually Free

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

uncle sam us propaganda poster

6. 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. Yikes! Looks more like Mr. Burns than an American icon.

7. Date w/ Uncle Sam: Coast Guard Recruitment Poster

date uncle sam poster

Related: Interesting History of the Famous Death and Taxes Quote

8. No Room for RUMORS! Uncle Sam WWI Propaganda Poster

uncle sam us wwii propaganda poster

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9. BUY WAR BONDS! Uncle Sam Poster WWII

uncle sam propaganda poster

10. Uncle Sam Propaganda Poster: I’m Counting On You!

uncle sam us propaganda poster

11. Uncle Sam Passive Aggressive Army Recruitment Poster

uncle sam us propaganda poster

Uncle Sam looks like a frustrated substitute math teacher after getting hit with a third spitball.

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

12. Uncle Sam Zombie: VOLUNTEER Recruitment Poster:

uncle sam recruitment poster wwi

13. 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?

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

uncle sam britannia propaganda

15. Uncle Sam Preserve WWII Poster

uncle sam propaganda wwi preserve

16. Uncle Sam Pearl Harbor Poster WWII:

uncle sam wwii pearl harbor poster

17. Uncle Sam WWI Red Star Animal Relief Poster:

uncle sam us propaganda red star wwi

18. Uncle Sam Judge Magazine Cover by James Montgomery Flagg

uncle sam american propaganda judge

19. We’re All In It Together WWII

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.