Our museum is temporarily closed to support the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. Read a message from our director, and check our website and social media for updates.

Rare Uncle Sam Figure Collected by the National Museum of American History

December 23, 2014

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is adding a rare full-length and three-dimensional Uncle Sam figure to its collection. This early 20th-century statue will join the museum’s other material representations of national symbols, including Liberty and Columbia, which will be on display in a new exhibition exploring the history of the American people though 500 years of cultural interaction. The exhibition is expected to be open in 2016.

The Uncle Sam figure is a polychromatic papier-mâché statue standing at 74 inches. Wearing a hat with a star band, long blue coat, red tie, beige vest and red-and-white striped trousers, the figure resembles the Uncle Sam image popularized by artist James Montgomery Flagg in his 1917 poster, “I Want You for the U.S. Army.” The name “Uncle Sam” is thought to have originated around the time of the War of 1812.

“Seen on political and military posters, cartoons and badges, or even through objects such as an ice cream mold, a toy wagon or in actors’ costumes, these figures were used to create a national identity and represent America,” said Bill Yeingst, chair of the museum’s Home and Community Life Division. “Papier-mâché statues like this figure were often used in either store displays or parades.”

The artist or maker is unknown and the figure has been part of a private folk-art collection since the 1960s. It was recently acquired at auction from Skinner, Inc. of Boston, Mass.

The National Museum of American History is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000. For more information, visit https://americanhistory.si.edu.