The United States government was first caricatured as Jonathan, a shrewd Yankee, in Royall Tyler’s play The Contrast. But a new personification of the United States government surfaced during the War of 1812. He was «Uncle Sam». There are several theories of his origin, but one has been accepted by most word sleuths as the most likely. It concerns a meat packer in Troy, New York, named Samuel Wilson, whose nickname was «Uncle Sam». He stamped the boxes he was sending to the Army with the initials U.S., meaning, of course, «United States». But the employees got in the habit of saying, «Be sure the box is stamped Uncle Sam, the two words rolling off the tongue more easily than the blunt «U.S». True or not, Uncle Sam came to be widely accepted. In September 7, 1813, the Troy Post, published in Troy, New York, was the first to refer to the United States government in print as Uncle Sam.
Uncle Sam changed his habiliments as he grew older. He became more fashionable. When he first appeared in 1830 in cartoons, he was cleanshaven and wore a robe, no trousers. During the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, Uncle Sam took on another attire and, possibly aping the president, became hairy at least to the extent of a goatee. He was lanky and wore a red, white, and blue top hat and swallowtails, the dress so ubiquitously shown in the Army poster in which Uncle Sam points and says, «I Want You».
In 1961 Congress passed a special resolution recognizing Uncle Sam as America’s symbol.