Uncle Sam

Samuel “Uncle Sam” Wilson

Troy Meatpacker and Progenitor of the U.S.
“Uncle Sam” Icon
1766-1854

Samuel Wilson was born to Scottish parents in Arlington, Massachusetts. In 1789, he and his brother, Ebenezer, moved to Troy where they set a brickmaking business and later, a meat- packing business. 

At the time of the War of 1812, Wilson was a prosperous meat packer. He obtained a contract to supply beef to the Army, which he shipped in barrels. As government property, the barrels were branded with the initials “U.S.,” but soldiers joked that the initials referred to “Uncle Sam,” as Samuel Wilson was often called. Over time, anything marked with the same initials (as much Army property was) also became linked with his name. 

After the War of 1812, the concept of “Uncle Sam” began to take hold. Representations of Uncle Sam as a symbol began appearing in 1813. In 1817, James Flagg created the iconic “I Want You” recruitment poster. In 1961, Congress officially recognized Samuel Wilson of Troy as the progenitor of the Uncle Sam icon, which has represented the United States around the world for more than a century and a half. 

Samuel Wilson died in 1854 and was buried in Troy’s Mt. Ida Cemetery. In 1858 his son Benjamin bought a plot at Oakwood, where Samuel was re-interred. His wife, three of his children and two of his grandchildren are buried at Oakwood.

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