Uncle Sam and the Phonograph


By Doug Boilesen 2022

The phonograph's advertising history includes hundreds of advertising themes and rationales for purchasing specific brands and models of machines and records. There were testimonials and advertisements featuring opera stars, recording artists, band leaders, and comic storytellers. Various fictional characters were also important like Nipper for the Victor Talking Machine; Miss Columbia for the Columbia Phonograph Company; and Santa Claus who was ready to deliver multiple brands of phonographs to countless homes since the phonograph was repeatedly advertised as being the perfect gift for every member of the family.

Uncle Sam, a symbol of the United States of America, was another one of the fictional characters who would be seen in phonograph ads. Whether or not Uncle Sam was a fully trusted salesman after the civil war was probably dependent on the Mason-Dixon line and politics, but by the time of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 Uncle Sam was promoting many products.

Fifty years after the civil war Nora Bayes' 1916 hit song and record "For Dixie and Uncle Sam" is a popular culture example that grandparents may have served in the grey or the blue but it was now time for all to wave the American flag in support of Uncle Sam:

Your Granddad fought in the war of Sixty-One, He wore a suit of grey.

Your Daddy, too, in a unit of navy blue, To Cuba sailed away.

Though the one wore grey and the other blue, The blood of both's in you;

So I'm giving you up to Old Glory, And I'm mighty proud that I am!

You're all I've got, but be Johnny on the spot, For Dixie, and Uncle Sam!


During World War I Uncle Sam was the face of the United States' Army and Navy with their enlistment campaign having been successfully supported using the "well-known recruitment image of Uncle Sam" created by James Montgomery Flag.

Flag's illustration of Uncle Sam established the "standard appearance" of Uncle Sam for the following decades. Perhaps that World War I ad campaign could be called Uncle Sam's ultimate sales program. Unfortunately, Uncle Sam would be needed again for World War II.

In 1950 Uncle Sam was officially adopted as a national symbol of the United States of America.

Although Uncle Sam supported multiple consumer products from the 1870's and on, there are relatively few examples of Uncle Sam advertising the phonograph. When the phonograph began its home entertainment advertisements in popular culture circa 1895 there was no Uncle Sam raising his hat to the phonograph until Edison's triumphant 1901 phonograph poster (top of this page and below).

Uncle Sam as a phonograph salesman was probably most appealing and persuasive in his ads after Teddy Roosevelt became President when Uncle Sam was seen "de-lighted" and simply enjoying the phonograph. Uncle Sam's delight was also complemented by other popular culture examples of Uncle Sam expressing his pride in the phonograph as an American product and an example of the American spirit of inventiveness and genius, or American wizardry as in the case of Thomas Alva Edison.

Besides phonograph ads, Uncle Sam would be connected with the phonograph in cartoons, mechanical motion toys attached to phonographs, sheet music and the respective records, and a coin-operated device named "Uncle Sam's Entertainer" which could be used with any standard disc record.

The first advertisement with a phonograph in it was a Mrs. Potts' ad for her Sad Irons in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 1, 1878. However, that ad wasn't selling the phonograph, and it wasn't 'exactly' Uncle Sam as it was most likely the other American symbol of the time, Brother Jonathan. For the purposes of this gallery, however, the 1878 Mrs. Potts' ad is displayed here as the first example of Uncle Sam with the Phonograph. (For purists perhaps an asterisk can be added -- for details related to the identification of Brother Jonathan in that 1878 Mrs. Potts' ad see Phonographia's "Uncle Sam and Brother Jonathan: Salesmen 1876 - 1900.")


Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 1, 1878


FACTOLA: The earliest example of a phonograph being part of an advertisement, but not with the intention of selling a phonograph in that ad, is the June 1, 1878 illustration in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. In this ad Brother Jonathan (a symbol of the United States in general, and an allegorical figure of U.S. capitalism) is promoting the export of Mrs. Potts' Sad Irons to Russia by bringing the message to the Czar of their pending delivery by means of the recently invented Edison tinfoil phonograph.


Uncle Sam promoting Hub Gore Makers Elastic for Shoes in an 1894 trade card (below) was selling shoes, not selling Edison Phonographs so like the 1878 Mrs. Potts' Sad Irons ad the following isn't a phonograph advertisement. But of all the promotions which used Uncle Sam as a salesman at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, Hub Gore Makers is by far the most interesting since there actually was an exhibit at the Exposition which featured an effigy of Uncle Sam "speaking" his Hub Gore sales message by means of an Edison Phonograph. For that story and related details see The Antique Phonograph's Rest about 10 seconds between speeches.” The Uncle Sam Mystery at the 1893 World’s Fair by Allen Koenigsberg, March 2023.


Uncle Sam promoting Hub Gore Makers "Elastic for Shoes" with the automaton using an Edison Phonograph to "talk."

(Beacon Lith Co., Boston, March,1894) (PM-0650)

Hub Gore Makers circa 1897 added a seated "Uncle Sam" to their business stationery presumbably because their Uncle Sam Edison Phonograph automaton at the Exposition had made Uncle Sam their official salesman. It was "America's Ideal Shoe."

Monthly Statement Hub Gore Makers. December 18, 1897 (Source: The Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Archives, Smithsonian Institution.)


As a symbol of the United States Uncle Sam promoted and protected American interests in trade and global markets. The following 1898 illustration shows American accomplishments and Uncle Sam's pride in the recent products the United States of America had introduced -- one of those being the Phonograph. Note that this ad makes it clear that Uncle Sam's modern inventions aren't just for the world, they are "Up to date ideas for the Universe."


Uncle Sam - Inventing the phonograph, et al. - The New York Herald by Charles Nelan, 1898


For connections between the sewing machine and the phonograph see Phonographs and Sewing Machines.

For connections related to the telephone, telegraph and the phonograph see Edison: From the Telephone and Telegraph Comes the Phonograph - An American Experience video.

For connections between the typewriter and Edison's Ediphone see Edison's promotional movie "The Stenographer's Friend; or What was Accomplished by an Edison Business Phonograph (1910)."



Uncle Sam making American products (including what appears to be a Columbia graphophone) and taking sales orders from the world, Judge, 1899.


"I'm Uncle Sam the Yankee," Words and Music by T. Brigham Bishop. Publisher Jos. W. Stern & Co., 45 East 20th St., New York, 1896 (Source: The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection).


Edison Form 392, circa 1901


"Uncle Sam Takes Off His Hat" to honor the phonograph in an advertising poster for the Edison Triumph, Model A, introduced in 1901 with a 14" brass horn "a speaking tube could be specified instead of the horn. A two-way hearing tube was also supplied." (Frow and Sefl, The Edison Cylinder Phonographs 1877-1929, ©1978).


"Yankee Doodle," The Edison Phonograph, McClure's 1901 (PM-0941)

Yankee Doodle was an earlier symbol of American pride before Uncle Sam. This Edison phonograph ad combined that song and theme with a child-dressed like Uncle Sam holding an American flag and riding a pony.

Teddy Roosevelt was the new President in 1901 and was "De-Lighted" to meet everyone. The phrase became part of American popular culture.


Harper's Weekly, June 18, 1904

Columbia used "de-lighted" in several ads and catalog covers with Uncle Sam "De-Lighted" as he listened to the Columbia Graphophone.

A Zon-o-Phone advertising card used a bear instead of Uncle Sam as the one being "De-lighted" (the bear, of course, was also associated with Teddy Roosevelt and his namesake the "Teddy Bear" which first appeared in 1903).


McClure's Magazine, October 1905


Postcard c. 1905


Postcard, circa 1907


Uncle Sam "De-Lighted," Columbia Graphophone Catalog cover, 1907


"Columbia Graphophones on Credit" - Spiegel, May, Stern Co., 1907


The London branch of Edison's National Phonograph Co. featured Uncle Sam offering Edison Gold Moulded Cylinder Records to John Bull on this poster circa 1905. (Source: phonorama.fr)


The Columbia Graphophone, McClure's 1906

Young Americans, dressed as Miss Columbia and Uncle Sam singing the "praises of the Graphophone."


Cartoon of Uncle Sam listening to Panama Canal plans on phonograph records, The Talking Machine World, January 1906


Edison Phonograph Monthly, August 1908

William Jennings Bryan, in his Presidential bid of 1908 recorded a series of cylinder phonograph records for the Edison Phonograph Company. In this cartoon, Taft is seen complaining that he has missed out on this innovative campaigning. The Edison Phonograph Monthly in September 1908, however, announced the release of 12 Edison Records by William H. Taft made at Virginia Hot Springs, after Mr. Taft delivered his speech of acceptance at Cincinnati. The EPM called this an announcement of great importance, noting that "no matter how the November election may result we shall have Records by the next President. This makes new history. It indicates progress."



Uncle Sam Edison Window Display, The Edison Phonograph Monthly, June 1912

"A neatly colored cutout of Uncle Sam calling attention to the fact that The Celebrated Edison Phonograph is America's Best for American Homes forms the center of attraction. We desire to call all Dealers ' attention to the fact that this particular display requires no fixtures and can be used in a window 3x4 feet." Ibid. p. 5.


"Uncle Sam Shoe March" 1902

The Uncle Sam Shoemakers of Boston, makers of the Uncle Sam Shoe commissioned "The Uncle Sam Shoe March" in 1902 with Uncle Sam on the cover of the sheet music. As Allen Koenigsberg has written in "The Uncle Sam Mystery at the 1893 World's Fair" article "there was no direct connection to the Uncle Sam Shoe Co. of Boston or its identically-named (Print-registered, #530) Sheet Music March of 1902" and the Hub Gore Makers Company. (Ibid. Koenigsberg, March 2023, p. 9).

A two-degrees of separation connection, however, can be made with "The Uncle Sam Shoe March" commissioned by Uncle Sam Shoemakers in 1902 and Hub Gore's Uncle Sam selling their elastic-shoes with their Hub Gore Makers' Edison talking Uncle Sam Automaton.


"The Uncle Sam Shoe March," Composed by Philip Greely for the Uncle Sam Shoemakers, 1902 (Courtesy of Allen Koenigsberg).


The Uncle Sam Shoemakers company issued a sales catalogue in 1905 with its cover featuring Uncle Sam holding up a shoe with his left hand. Note the similar pose and hand positions compared with Hub Gore's Uncle Sam Automaton at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.


Uncle Sam Shoes Catalogue, Made by Uncle Sam's Shoemakers, 1905 (Courtesy High Ridge Books, Inc.)


Hub Gore Makers' Uncle Sam Edison Phonograph Automaton at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893



"Uncle Sam Booting the Mexican Bandit"

This motion toy phonograph attachment featured "Uncle Sam Booting the Mexican Bandit in Vigorous Yankee Fashion and Boxing his Ears. The Mexican is Beating It as fast as he can go."

"Uncle Sam and the Mexican," The Talking Machine World, July 15, 1916


"Can" the Kaiser by Uncle Sam

Another motion toy phonograph attachment featured Uncle Sam booting, kicking, and "canning" Kaiser Bill who is running away carrying his U-Boat "Pretzel."


The National Toy Co., “Play with any Lively or Patriotic Record.” The Talking Machine World, May 1917


WATCH Uncle Sam "boot" Kaiser Bill to Sousa's "Under the Double Eagle March" (30 second extract courtesy of CURIOSITYPHONO)


"Can the Kaiser" by Adkins & Fennell, Published by Adkins-Fennell Music Co., Kansas City, MO, 1917 (Courtesy Library of Congress).

LISTEN to "The Kaiser and Uncle Sam" performed by Charlie Oaks, Vocalion Record No. 15104, circa 1925. (Courtesy i78s.org and David Giovannoni).


"They're on their way to Kan the Kaiser" by Pyle and Thomas. Published by Thomas & O'Connell Music Pub. Co., New York City, 1917 (Courtesy The Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music).


"Uncle Sam," composed by Kidd, Elizabeth Ayresoser, Lyricist [Chicago: Kidd & Co, 1917] Notated Music, Library of Congress.


The Talking Machine World, August 15, 1911


"Uncle Sam's Entertainer," The Talking Machine World, July 15, 1917


1943 Philco Corporation - Uncle Sam is waiting for Victory when it can bring back its peacetime products, e.g., radios, phonographs and "new wonders" of entertainment.

For non-phonograph connected examples of Uncle Sam and John Bull in popular culture see Phonographia's Uncle Sam Illustrations: Puck and Judge, 1880 - 1900.



Uncle Sam Connected Sheet Music and Records (pre-1923)

There are many examples of Uncle Sam being used in the title of a song or illustrated on the cover of its sheet music. The following is a more limited list and selected based on the Uncle Sam sheet music having an associated phonograph record. Listen to each and enjoy the artwork as you transport back in time with Uncle Sam.





"He's long and lean and lanky that grand old gentleman: Uncle Sam" Alternative Title: "That grand old gentleman: Uncle Sam" Composer Edwards, Gus; Lyricist Cobb, Will D.; Illustrator Dunk, Walter M.; Published by Song Review Co., Inc., New York, 1918. (Sheet Music and text: University of South Carolina Libraries).


LISTEN: "That Grand Old Gentleman, Uncle Sam," sung by Arthur Hall, Columbia Graphophone Company, 78 RPM Record No. A2579); Released May 1918. (Source: Internet Archive).





"I'm a Regular Daughter of Uncle Sam," Words and Music by Edgar Allen. Publisher Shapiro, Bernstein & Co., 224 West 47th Street, New York, 1917. (Source: The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection).



LISTEN: "I'm a Regular Daughter of Uncle Sam," Columbia Record No. A2274, Recorded May 12, 1917 (Source: i78s.org and David Giovannoni Collection).





"Uncle Sammy," composed by Abe. Holzmann. [New York: Leo Feist, publisher, 1905] March~Two-Step (Sheet music and record courtesy of i78s.org and David Giovannoni-Sheram Collection).

LISTEN to "Uncle Sammy" - March and Two-Step (Holzmann), Edison Military Band (Frank R. Seltzer, director) Edison Record No. 8632, 2-minute Gold Moulded cylinder, released March 1904. (Source of record: i78s.org).




For "Dixie and Uncle Sam," Lyrics by J. Keirn Brennan. Music by Ernest R. Ball. M. Witmark & Sons, New York, 1916.

LISTEN to "For Dixie and Uncle Sam" - Sung by Nora Bayes, Victor 10" Blue Label (Personality) Record No. 45100, Recorded June 1, 1916 (Source: Collection of David Giovannoni and i78s.org).


Lyrics: "For Dixie and Uncle Sam"

In Maryland, in Maryland, There's a mother old and gray,

Alone she stands and waves her hand To her boy who is going away.

She said, "I'm proud of you, In your uniform of blue, And the sword that you carry too!

I've watched it twice before, Go bravely off to war, For the Grey and then for the blue!"


Your Granddad fought in the war of Sixty-One, He wore a suit of grey.

Your Daddy, too, in a unit of navy blue, To Cuba sailed away.

Though the one wore grey and the other blue, The blood of both's in you;

So I'm giving you up to Old Glory, And I'm mighty proud that I am!

You're all I've got, but be Johnny on the spot, For Dixie, and Uncle Sam!






LISTEN to Uncle Sam Medley - No. 1, National Guard Fife and Drum Corps, Edison Domestic series 3218, 4-minute celluloid cylinder, Matrix D-05492-B (Dub issued disc) (courtesy i78s.org and David Giovannoni collection). Pictured (above) is the Edison Diamond Disc Record No. 50453-R, Matrix 5492, 1917.





Sara Martin recorded "Uncle Sam Blues", which she wrote with Clarence Williams, in New York on 17 July 1923 with Clarence Williams on piano. Record released in September 1923 (Source: Text and Okeh Record Label courtesy RateYourMusic.com).

LISTEN to "Uncle Sam Blues" by Sara Martin on Spotify.


"Mama's Got the Blues" by Sarah Martin, Clarence Williams Music Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1923. (Source: Potter & Potter Auctions). No sheet music currently located for "Uncle Sam Blues."


LISTEN: "Uncle Sam Blues" (Source: Discography of American Historical Recordings)

"Uncle Sam Blues" by CLARA SMITH with Fletcher Henderson at the piano. Columbia Phonograph Company Record No.12D Matrix: 81253, 78 rpm, Recorded October 1, 1923. (Label and text source: DAHR and UC Santa Barbara Library)