Origins: "Uncle Sam"

Ransom Riggs

Ever wonder where the term "Uncle Sam" came from? Well, we did -- yesterday, in fact -- over an early-morning bowl of Trader Joe's whole-wheat "o"-shaped cereal. (Nasty stuff, that.) After choking down our nourishment, we resolved to find out.

Interestingly enough, the most widely-accepted story of the term's origin (there are several) involves similarly inedible rations. During the War of 1812, a New York meat-packer named "Uncle" Samuel Wilson had a supply contract with the Army. He shipped the meat, salted, in barrels marked "U.S.," which the soldiers and teamsters who transported them joked were the initials of "Uncle" Sam himself. So the government-supplied meat -- and thenceforth, anything else marked "U.S." -- was said to be courtesy of Uncle Sam.

If you don't believe us, just ask the 87th Congress of the United States, who in 1961 adopted a resolution "saluting Uncle Sam Wilson of Troy, New York, as the progenitor of America's National symbol of Uncle Sam." Another story, about which neither the 87th nor any other Congress has rendered its opinion, posits that "Uncle Sam" was a creation by Irish immigrants who referred to the US by its Gaelic acronym, SAM; "United States of America" translates to Stáit Aontaithe Mheiriceá in Gaelic.

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