We’ve just celebrated Labor Day! Ironically, the day created to celebrate the American worker and their achievements has most workers working as white-collar workers have the day off. The day became a federal holiday in 1894, and Uncle Sam is often seen leading the celebration parades in many cities.
I’m not sure if this is because Uncle Sam has become a symbol incarnate of our country, or if it was that on September 7, 1961, the Congress recognized Samuel Wilson as “the progenitor of America’s national symbol of Uncle Sam” and the date is usually on or near Labor Day?
The next question you may ask is who is Samuel Wilson? Simply, he was a meat packer from New York who supplied beef to the army during the war of 1812. He would brand his barrels with a “U.S.” for United States, but given that his given name was Sam for short, the soldiers began to refer to the barrels as, “Uncle Sam’s.” Now, this is where the publicity angle comes in: a local newspaper picked up the story, it got spread around the country, and the nick-name of Uncle Sam stuck.
Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist at the time, is part of the reason the name stuck. Nast started using the name Uncle Sam in his cartoons to symbolize the country as a person. Although Nast originally used a likeness of Wilson, eventually Nast added the beard, top hat, and stars-and-stripes suit that we know and love today.
But what does Santa Claus have to do with Uncle Sam? Nast also drew the first image of the jolly old elf as we know him today. In 1862, Nast gave us Santa Claus in the publication Harper’s Weekly and had him supporting the Union. Thus, I guess, forever aligning him as a Yankee!