Uncle Sam and Brother Jonathan: Salesmen 1876 - 1900

"Brother Jonathan celebrates the American centenary at the Philadelphia World's Fair of 1876."


Uncle Sam and Columbia Host the 1893 Chicago World's Fair


By Doug Boilesen 2023

Uncle Sam and Brother Jonathan

"Uncle Sam" as a personification for the U.S. government is cited in a March 24, 1810 journal entry by Isaac Mayo, then a Navy midshipman. Here is the museum's transcript: weighed anchor stood down the harbour, passed Sandy Hook, where there are two light-houses, and put to sea, first and second day out most deadly seasick, oh could I have got on shore in the hight [sic] of it, I swear that uncle Sam, as they call him, would certainly forever have lost the services of at least one sailor. (Isaac Mayo - Wikipedia)

There was also Brother Jonathan.

In an Atlas Obscura article by Adee Braun, July 4, 2019 (originally published July 3, 2017) titled "Before America Got Uncle Sam, It Had to Endure Brother Jonathan" Braun wrote that Brother Jonathan was "brash, bold, and bigoted, he made for an uneasy national mascot."

Brother Jonathan was a rustic New Englander who was depicted at various times on stage as a peddler, a seaman, and a trader, but always as a sly and cunning figure. He began to show up in political cartoons in newspapers and magazines during the early part of the 19th century as new and cheaper printing methods developed. It was at this point that American cartoonists transformed Brother Jonathan from a figure of derision into one of patriotic pride. Ibid.


"Uncle Sam sick with la grippe." Lithograph by Edward Williams Clay, New York : Printed & published by H.R. Robinson, 1837. Uncle Sam in chair sick from government financial failures. Brother Jonathan is outside talking to Doctor Biddle with some Bonds being delivered in the box (Biddle's Pennsylvania State bank was buying bonds to shore up banking community). This is the lithograph which Adee Braun referenced in her article as the only example in which Brother Jonathan (outside window on left) and Uncle Sam appear together. (Ibid. "Before American Got Uncle Sam...") and (Library of Congress).

Columbia and Liberty were also symbols of America and were often seen with Uncle Sam or Brother Jonathan in performing that role.

The following are examples of these American symbols from 1876 - 1900 as representatives or personifications of the United States government who also promoted commerce and some very specific products made in the U.S.A.

Since this is a Phonographia gallery the examples start with the earliest known connection between Uncle Sam and the Phonograph in an ad for Mrs' Potts Sad Irons in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 1, 1878. An Uncle Sam (or possibly Brother Jonathan) is shown turning the crank of an Edison phonograph which delivers a message to the Czar that 1000 Sad Irons have been sent with more coming. The figure in this illustration is not identified but most contemporary references to this ad refer to him as being Uncle Sam -- which is likely the case since most of the Uncle Sam illustrations in Frank Leslie's between 1875 and 1878 have named similiar looking characters like this and are identified as "Uncle Sam."

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper advertisement for Mrs. Potts' Irons, June 1, 1878.

Additionally, this figure with the Czar has a short beard, whereas Jonathan is normally beardless. The pants Uncle Sam are wearing can't be seen.

However, a Mrs. Pott's Sad Irons trade card circa 1878 (possibly released during or shortly after the Philadelphia World's Exposition of 1876) does show Miss Columbia ironing Brother Jonathan's hat with her Mrs. Potts' Sad Iron and she addresses the figure in the kitchen as "Brother Jonathan." His chin is very pointed and is possibly a short pointed beard. His coat with the stars and his pants with the stripes may also help distinguish Brother Jonathan from Uncle Sam during this time period as it is unclear when Uncle Sam first changed his pants and started wearingh stripes.


Miss Columbia and Brother Jonathan in the kitchen with Mrs. Potts' Cold Handle Sad Iron. Sold by Burditt & Williams, Boston, Mass. circa 1878. The 1876 Philadelphia Exposition World's Fair displayed Mrs.Potts's cold handle sad iron and they would also be popular at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.


Although these two Mrs. Potts' ads circa 1878 don't appear to be drawn by the same artist the depictions of Uncle Sam don't have to be consistent in all details during this time period. Nevertheless, it's interesting that Mrs. Potts' Sad Irons were apparently advertised by both Uncle Sam and Brother John circa 1878 - a period when the new Uncle Sam was morphing with Brother Jonathan, and at the same time Brother Jonathan was still being illustrated and identified in popular culture as his own character.


Examples of Uncle Sam and Brother Jonathan in their Promotional Roles

More illustrations do start portraying Uncle Sam by name in respective trade cards in the 1880's but in 1876 Brother Jonathan could still stand on his own as a representative of the United States as seen in the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 held in Philadelphia and the first "World's Fair" in the United States.

Brother Jonathan celebrates the American centenary by straddling the towers of the main building at the Philadelphia World's Fair of 1876. Printed by Currier & Ives, c1876. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/LC-DIG-PGA-05034


Clark's Spool Cotton, Gold Medal Awarded, Paris 1878. Lithograph by L. Prang & Co., Boston, U.S.A. ©1878 (Uncle Sam or Brother Jonathan?)

Ladies Pocket Calendar for 1879 on back of trade card.


Clark's Spool Cotton, Gold Medal Awarded, Paris 1878. Lithograph by L. Prang & Co., Boston, U.S.A. ©1878 (Uncle Sam with Miss Columbia - Calendar for 1879 on reverse of trade card)




Bell Telephone Communication Calendar for 1881, Lehman & Bolton, lithographers. Philadelphia, 1880 (Courtesy of Library Company of Philadelphia.)

The Library Company of Philadelphia's description identifies the woman as Liberty with a lyre at her feet as she looks at an album of U.S. Presidents. The man holding the album is not identified but this is clearly Brother Jonanthan in his shared and morphing role with Uncle Sam (which can be confirmed by his Philadelphia World's Fair of 1876 illustration straddling the towers of the main building).




Not specifically identified but perhaps the striped pants, the hat, no beard and his activity make this illustration more likely being the New Englander Brother Jonathan than Uncle Sam, here seen drinking hard cider from a barrel in advertisement for Nathaniel W. Appleton, Stationer, Boston, Mass., printed by Wemple & Kronheim, N.Y. circa 1880's. (Courtesy Dave Cheadle)


Uncle Sam advertising Preston & Merrill's Yeast Powder trade card, printed by Bancroft - Lith - S.F. circa 1880's. (Courtesy Dave Cheadle)


Uncle Sam shaving using blackened boot for mirror, Frank Miller's Blacking, Trade card by Mayer, Merkel & Ottmann, Lithographers, N.Y., circa 1880's.


Uncle Sam Offering Libby's Cooked Corned Beef to England. Trade card circa 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. (Courtesy Dave Cheadle Cards)


Uncle Sam promoting Keystone Manufacturing Co., Agricultural Implements. Mechanical trade card, circa 1890's.


Uncle Sam promoting Henry Mayo & Co., Boston Minced Codfish, circa 1880's


Uncle Sam promoting Henry Mayo & Co., Boston Minced Codfish, circa 1880's


Wheatlet Breakfast Food "Eaten and Enjoyed by all Nations" promoted by Uncle Sam, die-cut lithograph by Alfred von Cothausen, Milwaukee, Wis., 1899.


Daisy Hose Supporters promoted by Uncle Sam "for rich and poor" and all nations for Pan-American Exposition. Trade card by Compton Litho. Co., St. Louis circa 1901.


"Uncle Sam" promoting Oliver Chilled Plows, South Bend, Ind., circa 1880's, is the morphing version of Uncle Sam with the flirtatious and rascally look of Brother Jonathan still apparent.



Uncle Sam promoting the New "Model Grand" Portable Range. Spicers & Peckham, Providence., R.I. trade card by Mayer, Merkel & Ottmann, Lith., New York circa 1880's. (Disclaimer)


Uncle Sam at the North Pole promoting Soapine Soap. c. 1880s. "Yankee Notions" would probably be more in character with Brother Jonathan's New England regionalism.


Uncle Sam promoting the B. T. Babbitt's Soap Powder, New York. Trade card by Bufford, circa 1880's.



Uncle Sam (giving advice to "buy it") promoting Clark's O.N.T. Spool Cotton thread, circa 1880's.


Uncle Sam (giving advice) promoting "Empire" Wringer, trade card circa 1880's.



Trade card of Uncle Sam with cigar and parodied as an opportunistic salesman, inspired by Oscar Wilde's Tour of United States and the aesthetic movement, ©1882 by E.B. Duval. (Courtesy the Dave Cheadle Card Company).


Uncle Sam and Miss Columbia promoting National Refining Co., Cleveland, O., trade card circa 1880's.


Uncle Sam representing America and literally supporting Reckitt's Blue Soap, trade card for Wemple & Company, New York circa 1880's.


Boyish Uncle Sam rising due to King's Quick Rising Flour, trade card by Shober & Carqueville Lith.Co, Chicago, circa 1880's.


Uncle Sam giving advice with an "official proclamation" and the United States of America coin as part of its logo, Shober & Carqueville.,1886 - Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (Courtesy Library of Congress). (Disclaimer)


"Uncle Sam's Nerve & Bone Liniment," Orcutt-Killick Litho. Co. Chicago, c. 1880s. The name says "Uncle Sam" but little else seems connected with its contemporary popular culture versions of Uncle Sam or Brother Jonathan.


Thomas Nast, of course, must be mentioned for the role he played in establishing the identity of Uncle Sam. The following woodcut from Harper's Weekly in 1882 takes the most symbolic parts of America (the American Eagle and Uncle Sam) to create a composite representative of the United States in negotiating with the British.


Negotiations between the British Lion (John Bull) and Uncle Sam, Harper's Weekly, 1882


Thomas Nast's "Uncle Sam" illustrations in Harper's Weekly in the 1870's helped create an updated Uncle Sam. As Braun described in "Before America Got Uncle Sam, It Had to Endure Brother Jonathan"

Uncle Sam had long existed alongside Brother Jonathan, but as a less prominent character. During the Civil War, American and British cartoonists started dressing Uncle Sam in the long-tailed blue coat and red-and-white striped trousers that had been worn by Brother Jonathan. At the same time, Uncle Sam started to acquire Lincoln-like aspects, including as a stovepipe hat and a sizable beard. Eventually, Brother Jonathan faded entirely into the figure of Uncle Sam who became the stoic, sober, adult version of the American government that was needed in the wake of the

Nast's illustration of Uncle Sam in the May 15, 1875 edition of Harper's Weekly exemplifies the direction of the new Uncle Sam, with Nast even throwing in some "Yankee Doodle" for Uncle Sam's hat. From here Uncle Sam would continue to grow in American popular culture and Brother Jonathan would disappear.


"Another Feather in Yankee Doodle's Hat," by Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly, May 15, 1875



Uncle Sam and Columbia Host the 1893 Chicago World's Fair


In 1893 Uncle Sam and Miss Columbia were the faces who represented the United States welcoming the people of the world to Chicago.


Columbia Advertising for Jas. S. Kirk & Co. Soap Makers, Chicago, Trade card, 1893


1893 World's Columbian Exposition Souvenir Booklet - Kingsford's Oswego Starch. Lithograph by Forbes Co., Boston (Disclaimer)



1893 Liberty Head Gold Coin


Uncle Sam and Columbia Awakening from a Midsummer Night's Dream, by Victor Gillam, Judge, 1893


For examples of Uncle Sam's presence at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair see Uncle Sam and the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.



Columbia 1872

""Columbia as the Spirit of the Frontier, carrying telegraph lines across the Western frontier to fulfill manifest destiny."

American Progress by John Gast, 1872 (Courtesy Library of Congress)