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Images of Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam as an invented brand character for America has a great visual charm - half billboard, half huckster. Rather like a British policeman in the traditional domed headwear, it is impossible to be utterly browbeaten by this level of sartorial vulgarity and implausibility of decoration. Oddly, the goatee became associated in America in the fifties with untrustworthy Europeans, usually in the guise of the evil scientist. The image of Trotsky was perhaps not far behind.
It is an interesting experiment to compare the respective costumes and facial hair sported by the Sams below.

01 December 1951, and my own favourite. This is an advertisement for The Advertising Council, recalling the industry's contribution to the War Effort in the "first dark days of World War II". 19 x 23cms, and as banale an image as you could get, featuring a national personification greeting the respected face of business. This almost plumbs the depths of PUNCH cartoons where France and Belgium weep over a Turkey. There are, however, for the discerning analyst, some interesting variants - in the rather too affectionate double handshake which, because of the badly drawn arm, looks like Sam is trying to extract something from the sleeve of Business Leader. Would you trust your new dynamic advertising campaign to an elderly cove who came out without his teeth and needs to steady himself with his left arm on his desk which is, curiously, bare ? He leaves the impression of somebody who is grateful to be called because there's not a lot going on in his life. The use of Brown Trousers on Sam is a cardinal error. The Advertising Council should be the first ones to realise that you have to maintain consistency of colour in branding.


02 Herblock's image of concerned Sam, Washington Post 1951, From The Herblock Book, Beacon Books, Boston 1952.

03 Armed Forces recruitment from Okonite October 1948, US Army and Airforce Recruitment, "This is not a time of war. Yet seldom before except in wartime has America been threatened with graver danger than today. " Using the celebrated and jagged image by James Montgomery Flagg as a basis but without the teethgrinding and interrogation. June 1943, 14 x 23cms. Issued by the Mead Corporations, papermakers to America. Very much the huckster with a grim face shrouded in darkness with an innacurate thumb over the shoulder , more lift-seeking than directional. Signed "Gough".

04 US Savings Bonds c1947

05 Uncle Sam on his knees ? "not beaten there by the hammer and sickle but FREELY, INTELLIGENTLY, RESPONSIBLY, CONFIDEMNTLY, POWERFULLY. America knows it can destroy communism & win the battle for peace. We need fear nothing or no one.... except GOD." And who brings us this stuff ? The Hilton Hotel Chain , that's who - detail from the ad JULY 1952 14 X 27cs  
06 June 1964, issued by the vigorously anti-Socialist Investor owned Electric Light and Power Companies . 18 x 20cms. "The people who wrote our Constitution decided that the Federal Government should not be a Great father. In fact they restricted Uncle Sam's role rather strictly, to assure freedom and opportunity for individuals." Now, how would you describe Sam's expression. I think it's distinctly RUEFUL . Sam would love to be Father to the Nation, (like Papa Doc of Haiti) but realises that the Power companies are lit, day and night, to stop it. Hence Sam cannot here be called a personification of the Nation - more a potential enemy.

07 March 1941, and reproduced for you on such a scale that you'll lose sleep for a week. Here, Sam, who tends to the shifty, has got stern, with a terrific musculature. He positively bristles with stars, not to mention stripes and his head of hair is more Mosaic than is usual on American heroes. Signed "Arthur Smith" and a good drawing it is too. Slightly vulgar on the hallation, but you can't have everything 11 x 15cms.