Thursday, September 6, 2012

Our 'Uncle' is From Troy, New York

This was really meant to be a Fourth of July post but since that date has passed, I thought this might work just as well given the political convention and election season we're in right now.

This past June, my husband and I were driving to Manchester, Vermont for a business conference. On the way, we passed through the city of Troy, New York located on the east side of the Hudson River a few miles north of Albany.

At one time Troy was known as the Collar City due to its manufacturing shirts, collars, and other textile production. But it might best be known for The Rensselaer School, which later became Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824. Another institution of higher learning, Russell Sage College, opened in 1916. For me, as we entered the city, I was surprised to see a sign declaring Troy as the home of 'Uncle Sam.' Really? Of course I knew I would investigate.

So here is (allegedly) how that name came about: During the War of 1812, Samuel Wilson, a Troy meat packer, got a job packing his products into barrels and shipping it to the Army. Rations of fresh meat were rare in those days, and when the soldiers asked who supplied it, the answer was "Uncle Sam" because "U.S." was stamped on the meat barrels. "United States" and "Uncle Sam" became synonymous. Sam Wilson, the story goes, was called "Uncle Sam" around Troy because he employed a lot of its residents was friendly and well-liked.

Samuel Wilson, meat packer
The famous image of Uncle Sam was shown publicly on the cover of the magazine Leslie's Weekly, on July 6, 1916, with the caption "What Are You Doing for Preparedness?" The artist was James Montgomery Flagg.  The image shown above is from 1917.  Flagg's image also was used extensively during World War II.

Troy boasts a  memorial near Wilson's long-term residence in that city.  Samuel “Uncle Sam” Wilson, born in 1766,  is undoubtedly Troy’s most famous son. 

Additional Troy Trivia:
Interestingly, Kevin Smith, a contestant on the show 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' won the top prize of $1,000,000 by correctly answering the question, "The U.S. icon 'Uncle Sam' was based on Samuel Wilson who worked during the War of 1812 as a what?" The answer was A: Meat inspector.

On December 23, 1823, The Troy Sentinel was the first publisher of the world-famous Christmas poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (also known as "The Night Before Christmas" or "Twas the Night Before Christmas"). The poem was published anonymously. 

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