uncle sam poster 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. First, here’s a brief history of Uncle Sam:


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 to troy nysign uncle sam
Welcome to Troy NY, home of uncle Sam sign

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 uncle sam
Uncle Sam, you don’t look well. Are you sure we should go into battle!?

*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.

your country needs you lord kitchener

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.

uncles sam propaganda poster rolling up sleeves
Something doing boys! Uncle Sam on the bridge

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uncle sam i want you wwi poster large
Iconic Uncle Sam Poster: (I want you so bad, it’s drivin’ me mad…)

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 buy bonds poster
Uncle Sam poster: Buy Extra Bonds! (Or I’ll throw a wrench at you!)
uncle sam defend freedom poster
Uncle Sam defend freedom poster

*Why TurboTax is Not Usually Free

uncle sam with children poster
I want you?! Creepy uncle Sam with his new secretary and his 9 year old accountant
coast guard uncle sam poster propaganda

Related: Interesting History of the Famous Death and Taxes Quote

uncle sam poster rumors
Uncle Sam has no room for rumors or sauerkraut on his plate

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

uncle sam poster buy war bonds
Uncle Sam buy war bonds poster. “Get that Schnauzer!”
i'm counting on you uncle sam poster
uncle sam recruitment poster wwi
Uncle Sam recruitment poster. He looks deflated that you might not enlist.

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

uncle sam recruitment poster volunteer wwi
(Zombie?) Uncle Sam recruitment poster – Hey stranger, you don’t have the guts to shoot me!
uncle sam flexing painting flagg
Lesser known painting of Uncle Sam by James Montgomery Flagg – “Welcome to the gun show, ladies!”
uncle sam grave in 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 Britain’s Day Poster 1918 – “I’m not feeling the chemistry here”
uncle sam poster preserve food
Uncle Sam “PRESERVE” poster. Ironically, I think those are jars of preserves! (or jelly?)
avenge pearl harbor uncle sam poster wwii
Uncle Sam Poster: Avenge Pearl Harbor
uncle sam red star horse poster
Uncle Sam poster: American Red Star Animal Relief “Help the horse save the soldier”
uncle sam judge magazine
Uncle Sam Judge Magazine cover 1918

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.

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