Uncle Sam is a cartoon character that was designed sometime in the early 1800s to personify the United States. His exact origins are widely debated, but most believe his name came from a play on the abbreviation "U.S."
Most earlier representative figures of the United States such as "Brother Jonathan" were overtaken by Uncle Sam somewhere around the time of the US Civil War. The female personification "Columbia" has seldom been seen since the 1920s. Today, with the possible exception of the Statue of Liberty, the character of Uncle Sam is probably the most easily recognizable personification of the United States.
The term "Uncle Sam" can also be used as a synonym for America, especially the United States government. Phrases like "Uncle Sam needs ... " are often used by critics and satirists to create the image of the United States as a human being, with human wants and desires.
Uncle Sam is usually drawn as a tall, elderly man with a Stars and Stripes top hat, red white and blue morning coat, and striped pants. This style was originally popularized by cartoonist Thomas Nast and is now the "universal" image of the character. In recent years some cartoonists have drawn a more "modernized" youthful version of Uncle Sam, although the distinctive top hat always remains.
The Uncle Sam character is often used in editorial cartoons as a physical representation of America. To American cartoonists he is largely considered an honorable figure, and is usually treated with respect, often representing the nation's conscience.
In some other countries, especially those hostile to the United States, Uncle Sam is often portrayed as a much less respectable figure, and the personification of American arrogance or imperialism.
During World War I a very famous recruitment poster that depicted Uncle Sam pointing at the viewer with the words "I want YOU!" appearing below, created by artist James Montgomery Flagg in 1917, painting a modified version of his own face for Uncle Sam. The poster was inspired by a similar WWI poster issued in the United Kingdom, picturing Lord Horatio Kitchener in a similar pose. Flagg's poster was revived and reprinted for recruitment during World War II. The poster has seen been repeatedly parodied, with many different variations on the simple slogan.
In the Golden Age of Comic Books of the 1940s, creator Will Eisner created a superhero version of Uncle Sam for Quality Comics. In that version, Sam was a mystical being who was the spirit of a slain patriotic soldier of the American Revolutionary War, but now appeared in the world whenever his country needed him. The character was used for a few years from 1940 to 1943 when it was discontinued. DC Comics acquired the character as part of its acquisition of the Quality characters and now occasionally appears as a supporting character who is leader of the Freedom Fighters.