Uncle Sam Lesson for Kids: History & Facts

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

Uncle Sam is a cartoon figure that represents the United States. Come learn about Uncle Sam, how he got his name, how his appearance has changed, and some other neat facts about this US symbol.

Who is Uncle Sam?

Imagine a man with white hair and a white beard wearing a tall white hat wrapped in stars, a red bow-tie, a white shirt, and blue jacket. And he's pointing at you! But you haven't run into some strange man at the mall. You're imagining Uncle Sam!

Uncle Sam is a patriotic cartoon drawing of a man who symbolizes the United States and its government. His clothes are red, white, and blue, just like the American flag, and he has been around for a long time!

Was Uncle Sam a Real Person?

Uncle Sam the cartoon figure was inspired by a real man named Samuel Wilson, though none of the cartoon drawings actually look like him.

Samuel Wilson
Samuel Wilson

Samuel Wilson owned a business as a meat-packer in New York in the early 1800s. He was known to be a nice, fair, friendly man with a good sense of humor. Because of his kind, honorable personality, his friends and customers gave him the nickname of 'Uncle Sam', the way your friends might call you by a nickname.

During the war of 1812, he was contracted by the U.S. government to inspect and provide meat to the soldiers. Wilson stamped 'U.S.' on all the meat containers that were approved for the troops to eat.

Although the 'U.S.' stamp stood for United States, soldiers made a joke that the government meat came from Uncle Sam, and even started calling themselves Uncle Sam's soldiers.

After the war ended, people still thought of Uncle Sam as the symbol of anything having to do with the U.S. government.

Has Uncle Sam Always Looked the Same?

There is no formal image recognized by the US government as the official Uncle Sam, and he didn't always look the same in drawings. Different cartoonists drew him in different ways, the way your drawing of a person would probably look different than your friend's drawing.

Uncle Sam drawn with dark hair
Uncle Sam drawn with dark hair

Some drew him with dark hair and a round face. But when President Lincoln was killed in 1865, people that study history think that cartoonists started drawing him as tall and thin in order to look more like Lincoln.

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