The Most Famous Poster
Originally published as the cover for the July 6, 1916, issue of Leslie’s Weekly with the title “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?” this portrait of “Uncle Sam” went on to become–according to its creator, James Montgomery Flagg–“the most famous poster in the world.” Over four million copies were printed between 1917 and 1918, as the United States entered World War I and began sending troops and matériel into war zones.
Flagg (1877-1960) contributed forty-six works to support the war effort. He was a member of the first Civilian Preparedness Committee organized in New York in 1917 and chaired by Grosvenor Clarkson. He also served as a member of Charles Dana Gibson’s Committee of Pictorial Publicity, which was organized under the federal government’s Committee on Public Information, headed by George Creel.
Because of its overwhelming popularity, the image was later adapted for use in World War II. Upon presenting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt a copy of the poster, Flagg remarked that he had been his own model for Uncle Sam to save the modeling fee. Roosevelt was impressed and replied: “I congratulate you on your resourcefulness in saving model hire. Your method suggests Yankee forebears.”
Uncle Sam is one of the most popular personifications of the United States. However, the term “Uncle Sam” is of somewhat obscure derivation. Historical sources attribute the name to a meat packer who supplied meat to the army during the War of 1812–Samuel (Uncle Sam) Wilson (1766-1854). “Uncle Sam” Wilson was a man of great fairness, reliability, and honesty, who was devoted to his country–qualities now associated with “our” Uncle Sam. James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960)
With the storm of war brewing behind her, a personification of America sleeps. She wears a Phrygian cap, a symbol of liberty since Roman times. This poster tells all of America to wake up and do their part for the war effort.
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