Army recruiting poster featuring Uncle Sam, designed by James Montgomery Flagg, 1917.—The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Popular U.S. symbol, usually associated with a cartoon figure having long white hair and chin whiskers and dressed in a swallow-tailed coat, vest, tall hat, and striped trousers. The name probably originated with Uncle Sam Wilson, a businessman who provided beef to the army during the War of 1812. The U.S. stamp on his barrels, meant to indicate government property, came to be associated with his nickname, which in time came to symbolize the U.S. government. The Uncle Sam figure evolved in the hands of British and U.S. cartoonists; its most familiar treatment appeared on recruiting posters during World Wars I and II with the caption I want you.