1898: Uncle Sam dress up time.
1898: Uncle Sam dress up time.

Hometown of Uncle Sam

Troy, New York

Uncle Sam, mascot of the USA, was real. At least according to folks in upstate New York, who claim that a local 19th century meatpacker named Samuel Wilson was the guy.

Samuel Wilson, the story goes, was called "Uncle Sam" around Troy because he employed a lot of nephews and was an amiable, honest fellow. When the War of 1812 broke out, Wilson answered a classified ad in the Troy newspaper and got a job packing his meat into barrels and shipping it eight miles downriver to the Army, which was preparing to go to war with Canada. Rations of fresh meat were rare in those days, and the soldiers asked who had supplied it. "Uncle Sam" was the answer, and because "U.S." was stamped on the barrels, the goodness of "United States" and "Uncle Sam" became synonymous.

There are plenty of holes in the story, but no one's ever suggested a better one.

Having Uncle Sam as a native son should be a bonanza. Troy, however, has been slow to mine the star-spangled gold of Samuel Wilson. Its Uncle Sam tourist sights reflect a mix of cheerful boosterism and clunky missed opportunities, kind of the same way that America itself has grown: two steps forward, one back. It's a civics lesson that Uncle Sam, the cartoon character, might've scowled at, but that Samuel Wilson the meatpacker would probably have understood.

Uncle Sam's grave this a way.

Also see: Uncle Sam Sells

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April 17, 2014

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