James Montgomery Flagg

James Montgomery Flagg

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James Montgomery Flagg was born in New York City on 18th June, 1877. He had a difficult relationship with his parents. he later wrote: "Loyalty to family as such doesn't seem to me pertinent. Family isn't sacrosanct to me. To hell with the snobbery of inheritance."

Flagg was a talented artist and when he was twelve years old he sold his first illustration to St. Nicholas for $10. The Century Magazine later reported that the editor recalled: "There was something in those easy, unstudied lines that breathed ability and capacity so great that words of praise and encouragement seemed only a duty."

By the age of fourteen he was a member of staff of the humorous Life Magazine. His work was greatly admired by the industry and two years later he was working for Judge, the most popular magazine in this field. In 1893 Flagg went to the Art Students League. Although he made some very good friends at the art school, such as John Wolcott Adams and Walter Appleton Clark, he was disappointed about his development as an artist.

In 1897 he visited London with his friend, Richmond Kimbrough. He also attended the art school run by Hubert von Herkomer. He later recalled: "There are no art teachers. Art cannot be taught. Artists are born that way. They educate themselves, or else they do not become educated... I happen to have been born an artist. Ask anyone who doesn't know. I wasted six years of my young life in art schools. As far as any benefit accruing to me from them - I was working on the outside all the time, anyway. Nothing but total disability or death could have stopped me. I had to be an artist - I was born that way... You can't breed an artist. You can only breed mediocrity."

Flagg's main artistic heroes during this period were Howard Pyle and John Singer Sargent. However, he disliked the artist when he met him: "Sargent was more English than the English; in fact, not to be too refined about it, his manner was snotty." This experience did not stop Flagg from admiring Sargent's artistic gifts."

On his return to the United States he married Nellie McCormick, a woman eleven years senior. Flagg pointed out in his autobiography: "Here was the beautiful woman who had turned down a number of rich suitors to marry a poor but promising artist who was madly in love with her.... Nellie was a St. Louis socialite and knew all the richest people in all the big cities; up to then a realm of society entirely beyond my knowledge. In the early days of our marriage when I was short of cash, she put her allowance at my disposal in an utterly generous and unselfish way."

The couple lived in various homes in California, Florida and Virginia. For the next few years Flagg attempted to become a portrait painter. This was an unsuccessful venture and in 1904 he leased a studio apartment in New York City and decided to concentrate on his magazine work. His work appeared in all the major publications, including Scribner's Magazine, Judge, McClure's Magazine, Collier's Weekly, Ladies' Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, Saturday Evening Post and Harper's Weekly.

His biographer, Susan E. Meyer, has argued: "He (Flagg) received so many assignments that he claimed to have averaged an illustration a day for years - and the quantity of his work reproduced during this time (as well as his earnings) substantiates the accuracy of this estimate. Flagg was not only a productive illustrator, he was also enormously versatile.. Flagg displayed his powers in opaque and transparent watercolor and oils. He worked in monochrome for halftone reproduction; with a full palette for color reproduction. He was equally skilled in charcoal and pencil. He was even a consummate sculptor. No medium was too difficult for him and except for pastel (which he disliked) he used them all with ease."

In 1903 he began drawing portraits of Hollywood stars for Photoplay Magazine. Flagg had sexual relationships with several of these women. He later recalled: "Many of those girls were so beautiful; and artists are such fools! If I had this side of life to live over again. I'd again be just such a fool as I was!" Flagg rejected the idea that these were "love affairs". He thought a "lust affair" was a better description.

While in Hollywood he became friends with John Barrymore: "A great scholar, a great actor, a great occultist, a great drinker, a great swordsman, a great conversationalist, a great companion, a great wit and a great gent... I want to underline the fact that in spite of Jack's drinking, he had something that transcended the obvious weakness, that shone through the unhappy fumes like a sunrise through mist. People who loved him know that."

Flagg remained close friends with Walter Appleton Clark until his early death. "I loved and admired Walter; a grand human and a great artist... to my mind he was second only to Howard Pyle as America's number one illustrator... It seems fantastic that today he is unknown except by some of the old-timers who still recognize that no artist now living is his superior."

When the United States became involved in the First World War a group of artists, with Charles Dana Gibson, as chairman, established the Division of Pictorial Publicity. The group met once a week at Keene's Chop House in New York City, to discuss the government's requests for posters. During this period, Flagg designed 46 posters. This included the famous Uncle Sam poster with the caption "I Want You for the U.S. Army".

Nellie McCormick Flagg died in 1923. He married one of his models, Dorothy Virginia Wadman, the following year. His daughter, Faith, was born in 1925. Flagg claimed the marriage was the "worst mistake of my life". Susan E. Meyer points out: "Flagg was already 48 years old when his daughter was born. His lifestyle was not ideally suited for paternity, but within his limitations he attempted to make the best life for her he could." Dorothy Flagg suffered a severe psychiatric breakdown a few years after the birth of her daughter and was Institutionalized.

Flagg was a strong supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal and painted presidential election posters for him. The author of James Montgomery Flagg (1974) has commented: "Flagg had always admired FDR in public life and was equally impressed with the man in person, for he was not only forthright (a quality Flagg particularly respected in people), but he had a sense of humor as well."

Flagg continued to work for Photoplay Magazine. He painted the portraits of all the major filmstars. The actresses he considered the most beautiful included Hedy LaMarr ("it would be only a blind and deaf man who wouldn't fall in love with her"), Joan Fontaine ("she has everything"), Greta Garbo (I can think of no woman I would prefer to paint") and Merle Oberon ("much more beautiful to meet than to see... on the screen").

During the Second World War Flagg once again offered his services to the government and produced a large number of patriotic posters. Flagg was himself the model for Uncle Sam. He also painted several posters for the Red Cross. This included his favorite model of the time, Georgia McDonald.

Flagg had a long-term relationship with another one of his models, Ilse Hoffmann, the daughter of Hans Heinrich Lammers. His biographer has argued: ""Half Flagg's age, Isle was a complex and unhappy woman. Enraptured with her beauty, Flagg felt perpetually compelled to paint her, in spite of her being a poor model because she hated to pose. He was dazzled by her physical grace, her humor and intelligence, by her good taste and her coquettish manner." He described her as the great love of his life and was devastated when she committed suicide in 1945.

In 1946 he published his autobiography, Roses and Buckshot. He wrote: "If people were honest, which few are... love, while it begins with physical desire and passion, is more, much more, than that. It is a matter of growth, of quality, of strong sympathy, of shared troubles and joys. In other words, a roll in the bed with honey isn't love! And the tragic part of it is that you never learn this until you're past the age for it to happen to you again."

Flagg was a talented easel painter and in 1948 he held a one-man exhibition at Ferargil Gallery in New York City. However, he was dismissive of modern art: "It's silly to speak of modern art. There's no such thing. Art is good or bad, time has nothing to do with it." He dismissed Paul Cézanne and Vincent Van Gogh as charlatans and described the work of Pablo Picasso as "kin to the nasty scrawls chalked on an alley wall by underprivileged monster boys". Flagg added: "The difference between an artist and an illustrator is that the latter knows how to draw, eats three square meals a day and can pay for them."

In the 1950s magazines preferred to use photographs than illustrators like Flagg. He wrote: "I hate old age like a flower cut off from life and wilting, even the recall of a gay past gives an unbeautiful picture and a nauseating smell.... All my life I have been a worshipper of that beauty of human form you see in some men and women. All my life I have associated with the clever and witty, the brains you find in some people. Is it any wonder I don't like to look at the physical mess and mental dullness that has set in for me? As far back as I can remember, I've been in the limelight; now I'd rather be dead than be passed by, ignored."

James Montgomery Flagg died three weeks before his 83rd birthday on 27th May, 1960.

The year 1890 beheld the artist J. M. Flagg about to enter the art world and his teens. In March of that year, on a Saturday afternoon, Jimmy Flagg, armed only with a few pencil sketches he had made in Central Park, overcame a boy's awe of the editorial Olympians, and presented himself in the office of St. Nicholas and asked to see one of the editors. The writer of these lines was told to receive the young caller, and after a few words set himself to examine the boy's drawings.

There was something in those easy, unstudied lines that breathed ability and capacity so great that words of praise and encouragement seemed only a duty. They were strong and sincere words, and, as Mr. Flagg said recently, sent him away "walking on air."

The editorial praise was duly reported at home, and led to another visit from the young artist, this time to ask if the editor would repeat to the boy's mother the praise already given to the boy's work. And soon afterward came the mother, to whom even more was said than could be properly put in talking to a boy of twelve -- something of what unusual promise for the future seemed to be in the sketches shown. A plea was made that the rarity of the boy's gift entitled him to give his life to art work. The plea was the stronger that it came from one who in boyhood had wished to be an artist, and who to this day regrets that the wish was never carried out.

An invitation to visit the boy's father was given, and within a few days the writer found himself invited to dine and afterward to take part in a family council. It was not a matter of combating parental opposition, but of strengthening parental faith, and changing passive willingness into an active purpose to further a wise ambition.

After that talk, Mr. Flagg's visits to the editorial office became frequent, and the young illustrator was always assured of a warm welcome and of a keen interest in his work, some of which the magazine published, though of course the drawings of that time had in them more of promise than of fulfillment.

Art teaching was sought, and the native skill was trained and developed chiefly under the wise guidance of the Art Students' League, where the artist was able to prove his ability in competition with his fellows. In the outer world also was found a demand for the forceful pencil of the capable student, and before long frequent checks proved that even from the commercial point of view an art career was to be worth while.

James Montgomery Flagg first painted his famous Uncle Sam for a 4th of July 1916 issue of Leslie's Magazine. He was commissioned by the magazine in 1914, and reluctantly agreed when he finally saw what he believed to be the perfect model, a young soldier on a train.

Upon our involvement in WWI, the government contacted Flagg, requesting him to adapt his infamous figure into a war poster, and the rest is history.

He did not pose for this particular poster, but by the time WWII broke out, he was beginning to resemble his painting more and more. Flagg posed for many of his WWII posters, saving the cost of "model hire".

There are no art teachers. You can only breed mediocrity.

There are no art teachers. You can only breed mediocrity.

If people were honest, which few are... In other words, a roll in the bed with honey isn't love! And the tragic part of it is that you never learn this until you're past the age for it to happen to you again...

I hate old age like a flower cut off from life and wilting, even the recall of a gay past gives an unbeautiful picture and a nauseating smell.... Is it any wonder I don't like to look at the physical mess and mental dullness that has set in for me? As far back as I can remember, I've been in the limelight; now I'd rather be dead than be passed by, ignored.

American Artists and the First World War (Answer Commentary)

Käthe Kollwitz: German Artist in the First World War (Answer Commentary)

Walter Tull: Britain's First Black Officer (Answer Commentary)

Football and the First World War (Answer Commentary)

Football on the Western Front (Answer Commentary)

"Together We Win" Poster

James Montgomery Flagg was born in New York in 1877. As a child he began to draw and sold his first drawing at the age of 12. Two years later he was contributing to Life Magazine and at fifteen was on the staff of the The Judge. Flagg studied at the Arts Students League in New York. When he was twenty, he spent a year working in London before moving on to France. Flagg was one of America's leading illustrators. His illustrations were in Photoplay, McClure's Magazine, Collier's Weekly, Ladies' Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, Saturday Evening Post and Harper's Weekly. During the First World War Flagg designed 46 posters for the government. His most famous work is the Uncle Sam poster with the caption "I Want You for the U.S. Army". An adapted version of this poster was also used during the Second World War. James Montgomery Flagg died in 1960.

Photo, Print, Drawing The Navy needs you! Don't read American history - make it! / James Montgomery Flagg The H.C. Miner Litho. Co. N.Y.

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Artwork by "Uncle Sam" illustrator recovered decades after disappearing

Almost everyone's familiar with the stern image of "Uncle Sam" imploring young men to register for service in a World War I recruiting poster. The artist behind the work was James Montgomery Flagg, who's lesser known for his other works, including sensuous images of women.

One of his particular favorites mysteriously vanished decades ago. Flagg was Ray Kinstler's mentor. Kinstler said Flagg's most treasured piece was this nude, of his model and love, Ilse Hoffmann.

"When he painted people, they breathed" Kinstler told CBS News' Anna Werner. "You could feel the character, in a way, and the whole personality."

After Flagg's death in 1960, Kinstler helped clear out Flagg's New York apartment. "I remember looking out of the window, and the painting was there," Kinstler said. "Everything was in place."

"Uncle Sam"

But the next time he went, the beloved nude had vanished. Kinstler figured maybe a building worker stole it.

"I said, 'It's probably the superintendent, who got his kicks out of looking at a really hot nude and I'll bet you it's in somebody's apartment in Brooklyn,'" Kinstler said.

Trending News

Collector and attorney James Head writes about "The American Illustrators of Beauty." Two years ago he saw this picture in an auction house catalog. Sure enough, it was the missing nude.

"I thought I would never see it," Head said. "This is the mysterious-- mysteriously disappearing nude, and there it was."

Both Head and Kinstler alerted heritage auctions they might be selling a stolen item. Someone else noticed, too, Sergeant Mark Amundson of the New York City Police Department.

"We received a call from James Montgomery Flagg's granddaughter," Amundson said. "She said that there was an auction going on and her grandfather's stolen painting was on it."

Amundson usually investigates more recent crimes, where evidence is fresh. But in a case going back 58 years, he wasn't even sure he'd be able to find a police report.

Amundson had to determine where the report would have been filed and then search for it. He looked through roughly 6,000 records, motivated in part by Flagg's daughter and in part by an appreciation for history.

"She was adamant that the painting was stolen," Amundson said. "And, you know, it's part of her family's history. And let's face it, James Montgomery Flagg is a part of New York history and American history. So to get an opportunity to investigate something like that comes by you once in a lifetime. So I figured I'd take a shot. And at the very least, I can give her an answer."

And 6,000 reports later, there it was: "One oil painting misplaced in manner unknown."

That single phrase gave Flagg's descendants the ability to get the painting pulled from the auction, and put it back where it belonged, with a family member.

Raymond Kinstler CBS News

As to where it disappeared to all those years? Even the detective can't say.

"Because we can't prove one way or the other, especially with such a time lapse, that there was ever any criminal intent on what happened," Amundson said. "So, I couldn't prove that someone tried to steal it or did steal it. All I can prove is that somehow it went missing and it ended up on this auction house, or it ended up in the hands of someone else. So, I don't know."

But the story of the painting is one Ray Kinstler thinks Flagg would have appreciated.

"I think the old bastard would be amused with this," Kinstler said. "He had a great sense of the ridiculous, and he had an ironical side to him. As he said in his will, ugliness is everywhere, but he said, 'I still believe beauty exists.'"

CBS News learned that Raymond Kinstler passed away on Sunday at the age of 92.

As for the painting by his mentor, Flagg, it's now at the home of one of Flagg's descendants.

Biddeford History & Heritage Project

James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) was a summer resident of Biddeford Pool who became famous as an artist and illustrator. He was probably best known for his World War I poster depicting Uncle Sam saying “I Want You!” which he created in 1917.

Children and war stamps World War I poster, 1917

Known by family as Monty, James Montgomery Flagg said in his autobiography "Roses and Buckshot" that he began drawing at the age of two, though “not very well.” When he was 12, the national magazine "St. Nicholas" published one of his illustrations for $10, and by the time he was 16 he had become part of the paid staff of both "Life" and "Judge" magazines. As a teenager, he had no interest in formal education, and much preferred the company of adults to his peers.

James Montgomery Flagg and Rupert Hughes at Biddeford Pool, ca. 1915

Flagg’s career as an author, illustrator, and artist took him on travels from Europe to Hollywood, and his social circle included the rich and famous. He remained fond of his home in Biddeford Pool, however, and brought many of his friends to stay at the house he designed and built there. In his autobiography, James Montgomery Flagg referred to Biddeford Pool as a " tiny Maine Fishing Village." He recounted that he wrote about local folks for a magazine article, thinking he was disguising their identities by changing their names. In spite of the fact that he meant to be "funny and not at all derogatory," people saw through the ruse and stopped talking to him for a while, causing Flagg to declare, "They're powerful tetchy down East."

In a Class by Itself

Never one to hold back on his opinions, James Montgomery Flagg expressed himself publicly and often about political issues, race, standards of feminine beauty, education, and motion pictures. When he became incensed by the condition of the road between downtown Biddeford and Biddeford Pool, he published a cartoon and poem in the "Biddeford Weekly Journal". By 1926 the road was improved enough so that he submitted another cartoon and poem, concluding, "Well, Mr. Mayor, Our hats off to you--Long life and more power to Doctor Precou'!"

James Montgomery Flagg and dog, Biddeford Pool, ca. 1915

James Montgomery Flagg was married twice, first in 1899 to Nellie McCormick, whom he met at Biddeford Pool. After she died in 1923, he married Dorothy Wadman, with whom he had a daughter, Faith.

During World War II, Flagg once again illustrated patriotic posters, and received a letter of commendation from President Franklin Roosevelt. In addition to his work as an artist and writer, he also found time to become involved in theater, both as an actor and as a writer for "motion pictures."

Biddeford Pool, ca. 1910

In 1946 Flagg expressed his affection for Biddeford by donating a painting of Biddeford Pool to the Webber Hospital Auxiliary, accompanied by the comment, “I loved the Pool.” James Montgomery Flagg died in 1960 at his New York apartment, leaving behind a legacy of patriotic posters, strong opinions, and a fondness for his time in Biddeford Pool.

James Montgomery Flagg

Painter and illustrator for St. Nicholas Magazine, Judge, Life, Harper’s Weekly, College Humor and Cosmopolitan. He sold his first illustration at age 12 and is best remember for his I Want You, a World War I poster of Uncle Sam, for which he served as model.

Joan Stahl American Artists in Photographic Portraits from the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection (Washington, D.C. and Mineola, New York: National Museum of American Art and Dover Publications, Inc., 1995 )

Born in Pelham Manor, New York, James Montgomery Flagg attended several art schools, including four years spent at the Art Students League in New York City. He worked prolifically in a number of media but is best remembered for his poster designs.

By the turn of the century, Flagg had created a reputation as a graphic designer and illustrator. When the United States entered World War I, he produced his I Want You for U.S. Army poster, which quickly became a household icon and one of the most enduring images of the twentieth century. Although Flagg took the design from an earlier British work, he adapted it in a manner that immediately captured the American imagination.

Flagg is also well known for his many pen-and-ink drawings. Fascinated by the vivacity of the 1920 s, he sought to capture the spirit of a prosperous nation in a number of intelligent and witty works from that period. During his career, Flagg also executed numerous portraits in oil, ranging from sensitive likenesses of family members to grand renderings of statesmen and celebrities such as Theodore Roosevelt.

James Montgomery Flagg - History

Artist James Montgomery Flagg (left) presents his oil painting of William S. Hart astride his horse, Fritz, to the actor at his Hollywood home (8341 De Longpre Avenue, now in the city of West Hollywood), in 1924.

Photograph by Tilagg of Hollywood and distributed by Keystone Photo Service, 1231 South Olive Street, Los Angeles. 7.75x9.75 glossy print, autographed by Flagg and Hart.

According to the Hart Museum in Newhall, where Flagg's oil panting hangs in the downstairs dining room, the title of the painting is "The Bounty Hunter." According to an early collector of this signed photographic print, the title of the painting is "Without a Warrant" (see collector's notes on back of photograph at bottom). It should be noted the photograph was made in 1924 and the (unknown) collector's notes were written no earlier than 1946. Flagg does not state the name of the painting in his 1925 discussion of his 1924 visit with Hart here or in his 1946 autobiography. Neither does Hart, in his own 1929 autobiography.

Flagg spent several weeks with Hart as he painted the work (see Los Angeles Times below, July 27, 1924). Flagg painted studies of Hart's horse, Fritz, in Newhall Hart posed for the painting at his Hollywood home by sitting on a whiskey barrel that supposedly predated Prohibition (which took effect in 1920).

According to a Flagg bio­gra­phy, "After ten sit­tings the paint­ing was com­plete, Hart com­plain­ing reg­u­lar­ly that his face was tired from holding the ferocious expression for so long" (Meyer, Susan E., "James Montgomery Flagg." New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1974, pg. 55.)

Hart writes in 1929 ("My Life East and West," pp. 336-337):

James Montgomery Flagg came a-honeymooning to my little Hollywood home. Jim had been wanting for years to do an oil painting of my pony and myself, so, planting himself at the wheel of his car and placing his bride beside him, he motored across America.

I was sort of in the dumps, and the few weeks that Jim and Dorothy spent with us did me a lot of good. Jim started his painting up at the ranch but he hadn't squared things with Fritz. A few days of standing still, with me on his back, and the rest of his family standing around making bright remarks, was too much for the little autocrat. He quit cold. Jim had to continue his work at Hollywood. Fortunately, he had put in all of his time working on Fritz and could finish him from memory. But my end of it was not so easy. Instead of a live horse, I got a saw-horse with a pre-Volstead whiskey barrel on top of it.

Nothing in the humorous line, from A to Izzard, ever escaped Jim Flagg . and the all too ludicrous sight of the "bad guy" perched on top of a whiskey barrel kept his keen wit bubbling so much that he was forced to spend his spare moments hiding in a vine-covered pergola where he worked off his mirth on paper the result being, "Boulevards all the Way Maybe," a rich, whimsical description of his journey through Missouri mud and over Nevada deserts, to find for an inspiration, at the end of his rainbow, a bad man &mdash guns an' all &mdash riding a whiskey barrel on a Hollywood lawn. I can understand Jim's book being a laugh-provoker, but I can't understand why he never used the guns when they were always handy.

Davis (2003) adds: "Hart complained that his face was weary from holding a ferocious grimace so long" (pg. 183).

Looking at the two men flanking the portrait, which does the man sitting on the horse more closely resemble?

Flagg reproduced a cropped version of this image in his autobiography, "Roses and Buckshot" (G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1946, pg. 112 ff.). It is unknown if Flagg used this exact print, although it would explain the cropping. In the book, Flagg refers to the horse as "Paint." Hart often referred to Fritz as "Paint." Fritz was both a paint (breeding) and a pinto (coloring).

Flagg (1877-1960) was most famous for his Uncle Sam / I Want You For U.S. Army recruiting poster, which he first created in 1916 for Leslie magazine, aka Leslie's Weekly (formerly Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper), and then recreated while working as a military propaganda poster artist during World War I.

Flagg had previously created a series of illustrations for "Fritz's book," "Told Under a White Oak Tree" (1922). Years later, Flagg would paint a portrait of Hart's sister, Mary Ellen, which hangs in the upstairs living room of the Newhall mansion. In 1951, five years after Hart's death, Flagg drew a sketch of his "pardner" (shown below right).

Kitchener Wants You Too

Interestingly enough, Flagg’s quintessentially American image was a crib of a British drawing from three years earlier. The original appeared in a 1914 edition of the British magazine London Opinion. It featured a grim looking Lord Kitchener urging Britons to enlist in the army. This drawing, by Alfred Leete, would itself be adapted into a famous recruiting poster in the United Kingdom.

Flagg had little idea that his Americanized version of the Kitchener illustration would be such a hit stateside. In fact, by all accounts it was a rush job. With no time to commission a model to pose as Uncle Sam, Flagg used his own likeness for the face — he composed the drawing while sitting in front a mirror and later added wrinkles, a hat and a goatee.

Both the Kitchener and Uncle Sam posters became instant classics. A host of other nations, including the Russia and even Germany, pinched the concept for their own wartime recruiting drives. (SEE BELOW)


The earliest known personification of the United States was as a woman named Columbia, who first appeared in 1738 (pre-USA) and sometimes was associated with another female personification, Lady Liberty. With the American Revolutionary War came Brother Jonathan, a male personification, and Uncle Sam finally appeared after the War of 1812. [7] Columbia appeared with either Brother Jonathan or Uncle Sam, but her use declined as a national personification in favor of Liberty, and she was effectively abandoned once she became the mascot of Columbia Pictures in the 1920s.

According to an article in the 1893 The Lutheran Witness, Uncle Sam was simply another name for Brother Jonathan:

When we meet him in politics we call him Uncle Sam when we meet him in society we call him Brother Jonathan. Here of late Uncle Sam alias Brother Jonathan has been doing a powerful lot of complaining, hardly doing anything else. [sic] [8]

A March 24, 1810, journal entry by Isaac Mayo (a midshipman in the United States Navy) states:

weighed anchor stood down the harbor, passed Sandy Hook, where there are two light-houses, and put to sea, first and the second day out most deadly seasick, oh could I have got onshore in the hight [sic] of it, I swear that uncle Sam, as they call him, would certainly forever have lost the services of at least one sailor. [9]

The precise origin of the Uncle Sam character is unclear, but a popular legend is that the name "Uncle Sam" was derived from Samuel Wilson, a meatpacker from Troy, New York who supplied rations for American soldiers during the War of 1812. There was a requirement at the time for contractors to stamp their name and where the rations came from onto the food they were sending. Wilson's packages were labeled "E.A – US." When someone asked what that stood for, a co-worker jokingly said, "Elbert Anderson [the contractor] and Uncle Sam," referring to Wilson, though the "US" actually stood for United States. [10] Doubts have been raised as to the authenticity of this story, as the claim did not appear in print until 1842. [11] Additionally, the earliest known mention definitely referring to the metaphorical Uncle Sam is from 1810, predating Wilson's contract with the government. [9] As early as 1835, Brother Jonathan made a reference to Uncle Sam, implying that they symbolized different things: Brother Jonathan was the country itself, while Uncle Sam was the government and its power. [12]

By the 1850s, the names Brother Jonathan and Uncle Sam were being used nearly interchangeably, to the point that images of what had previously been called "Brother Jonathan" were being called "Uncle Sam". Similarly, the appearance of both personifications varied wildly. For example, one depiction of Uncle Sam in 1860 showed him looking like Benjamin Franklin, [13] while a contemporaneous depiction of Brother Jonathan [14] looks more like the modern version of Uncle Sam, though without a goatee.

Uncle Sam did not get a standard appearance, even with the effective abandonment of Brother Jonathan near the end of the American Civil War, until the well-known recruitment image of Uncle Sam was first created by James Montgomery Flagg during World War I. The image was inspired by a British recruitment poster showing Lord Kitchener in a similar pose. It is this image more than any other that has influenced the modern appearance of Uncle Sam: an elderly white man with white hair and a goatee, wearing a white top hat with white stars on a blue band, a blue tail coat, and red-and-white-striped trousers.

Flagg's depiction of Uncle Sam was shown publicly for the first time, according to some, on the cover of the magazine Leslie's Weekly on July 6, 1916, with the caption "What Are You Doing for Preparedness?" [1] [15] More than four million copies of this image were printed between 1917 and 1918. Flagg's image was also used extensively during World War II, during which the U.S. was codenamed "Samland" by the German intelligence agency Abwehr. [16] The term was central in the song "The Yankee Doodle Boy", which was featured in 1942 in the musical Yankee Doodle Dandy.

There are two memorials to Uncle Sam, both of which commemorate the life of Samuel Wilson: the Uncle Sam Memorial Statue in Arlington, Massachusetts, his birthplace and a memorial near his long-term residence in Riverfront Park, Troy, New York. Wilson's boyhood home can still be visited in Mason, New Hampshire. Samuel Wilson died on July 31, 1854, aged 87, and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, New York.

In 1989, "Uncle Sam Day" became official. A Congressional joint resolution [18] designated September 13, 1989, as "Uncle Sam Day", the birthday of Samuel Wilson. In 2015, the family history company MyHeritage researched Uncle Sam's family tree and claims to have tracked down his living relatives. [19] [20]

Birth of James Montgomery Flagg

Noted artist and illustrator James Montgomery Flagg was born on June 18, 1877, in Pelham Manor, New York.

Flagg was a skilled artist from a young age, with his illustrations appearing in national magazines when he was just 12 years old. By the time he was 14 his work appeared in Life magazine.

Flagg went on to attend the Art Students League of New York before studying art in London and Paris. After returning to the U.S. in 1900, Flagg kept busy providing illustrations for many books, magazine covers, political cartoons, and advertisements. Among these works was a comic strip for Judge magazine featuring the character Nervy Nat. At the height of his career, Flagg was the highest paid magazine illustrator in the country.

U.S. #3183i FDC – Flagg poster First Day Cover.

Flagg’s great claim to fame, however, came in 1916 when he reimagined the way we saw Uncle Sam. A popular symbol of America for over a century, Uncle Sam was pictured in a variety of ways – including closely resembling Benjamin Franklin during the Civil War. But in 1916 Flagg illustrated Uncle Sam in a new way – as an elderly man with white hair, goatee, and red, white, and blue top hat. According to Flagg, he didn’t want to bother hiring a model, so instead based Uncle Sam on himself, aging his own features.

U.S. #3502a pictures Flagg’s poster “First in the Fight, Always Faithful.”

Flagg’s illustration was first shown on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly magazine on July 6, 1916, with the caption “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” The following year the image was printed on thousands of recruiting posters declaring, “I Want You For U.S. Army.”

The poster became the most famous poster in American history and more than four million copies were printed. It inspired countless young men to join the fight and defend America. The image was so popular it was used again during World War II. Flagg produced more than forty posters for the war effort, often carrying positive messages encouraging recruitment, buying war bonds, national unity, or increasing production. He went on to produce several more powerful posters for World War II.

In addition to his magazine work and posters, Flagg also painted portraits. Among his subjects were Mark Twain, Ethel Barrymore, and Jack Dempsey.

U.S. #3502a FDC includes another Flagg poster on the cachet.

Watch the video: Missing painting from Uncle Sam recruiting poster artist found