TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10)—In 1961, both Houses of Congress unanimously passed a law proclaiming Samuel Wilson of Troy, New York, the progenitor of our national symbol, Uncle Sam. President John F. Kennedy signed the bill into law.
On October 18, 1980, the 12-foot tall aluminum statue was dedicated at Riverfront Park in Troy. George Kratina won the competition to create the sculpture. Kratina was a sculptor from Chatham and a Professor at RPI. He included items that were part of Wilson’s life in Troy, like the barrel for beef and pork, the bricks Sam Wilson made that helped build Troy, and his striking long cloak.
Wilson and his brother Ebenezer started with fruit orchards and a meatpacking business on the hill overlooking the village of Troy when they first came to the area in 1789.
Wilson came to symbolize the good in the United States during the War of 1812. The two brothers were subcontractors to a man named Elbert Anderson. Anderson supplied beef and pork to the troops heading north to the battles around Lake Champlain.
“The barrels were stamped U. S. E A for United States and Elbert Anderson,” said Rensselaer County and Troy City Historian Kathy Sheehan. “Because his beef and pork wasn’t rancid, he had a good brine. This is what starts to symbolize things that are good.”
The stories told by the soldiers from the War of 1812 to political cartoonists like Thomas Nast and other of the time helped create the caricature of Uncle Sam. In the 20th Century, James Montgomery Flagg took the idea of Uncle Sam and turned it into the famous “I Want You” posters of the World Wars.
“He is really part of the fabric of not just Troy but the national story,” said Sheehan. “One of the things about this area that people forget about was how important this whole area was. Not just Troy or Rennselaer County but the whole Capital Region during the War of 1812.”