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Where did Uncle Sam come from?

By Jo Lee Ferguson
June 23, 2010 at 7:15 p.m.

<strong>Q</strong><strong>UESTION:</strong> Where did the term "Uncle Sam wants you" originate? What does Uncle Sam mean?

<strong>ANSWER:</strong> I love a good story, and this is one of them.

I always thought the whole concept originated in World War II. However, the term "Uncle Sam" was actually born more than 100 years before that. Here's what the The History Channel's website had to say about Uncle Sam:

During the War of 1812, a Troy, N.Y. meat packer named Samuel Wilson supplied beef to the U.S. Army. The barrels were stamped with "U.S." for the "United States," but soldiers (they always seem to speak their own language) started describing the food as being "Uncle Sam's."

A local newspaper spread the story, and before you know it, "Uncle Sam" became a popular nickname for the federal government.

Then, in the 1860s and 1870s, political cartoonist Thomas Nast (the same guy who created the modern version of Santa Claus) began using an image of Uncle Sam. A white beard and a stars-and-stripes suit eventually were added to the cartoon character.

Artist James Montgomery Flagg, however, is credited with the using Uncle Sam in the context we know him for today. Flagg created the version of Uncle Sam who is wearing a tall top hat and blue jacket as he points forward. That version was used as a recruiting poster for the Army during World War I with the words "I Want You For the U.S. Army."

<strong>Q:</strong> When are they going to get the red light fixed at Gilmer Road and Cheryl Street in Longview? The work seems to have stopped.

<strong>A:</strong> You're right it did stop, but look for it to start back up after the Fourth of July weekend.

The folks at the Texas Department of Transportation told me the work had to stop while some electrical lines were moved out of the way. The utility company has recently finished doing that, and the contractor expects to get to installing the traffic signal after the holiday weekend.

<strong>Q:</strong> Who enforces the burning of leaves, brush, etc., after dusk outside the city limits in Gregg County?

<strong>A:</strong> This kind of call typically will end up with the county's environmental health officer, Paul Root, but you start by calling the Gregg County Sheriff's Office. That office could contact the county fire marshal, Lt. David Kidder, to let him determine if he or Root will respond. You may also contact Root directly.

Now, Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano did tell me that in May his office had one instance when such an after hours call was mishandled by a relatively new employee in the dispatch center. When the caller asked to contact the fire marshal, a deputy was sent instead to check the fire. The fire was already out when the deputy arrived. Cerliano said new hires are trained on how to handle those kinds of calls, and the employee was retrained after this instance.

I think this is also a good time to review the outdoor burning rules. As Root explained to me, a lot of people don't understand that state law says outdoor burning is banned one hour before sunset to one hour before sunrise or when winds are greater than 6 mph.

<strong>Answer Line note:</strong> I've received several questions lately from people who want me to find where they can purchase certain products or find businesses that offer particular services. The laws of Answer Line prevent me from responding to those questions, except in the case of nonprofit agencies that provide services to the public. Sorry folks.

E-mail questions to, leave a message at (903) 232-7208 or write to P.O. Box 1792, Longview, TX 75606



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