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).

This goes against the traditional story that "the term “Uncle Sam” referred, at first, to a businessman in Troy, New York, Samuel Wilson, who was affectionately known as “Uncle Sam” Wilson. That story was apparently so persuasive that in 1961 Congress passed a resolution in 1961 that recognized “Uncle Sam” Wilson as the namesake of the national symbol. (1)

I'm going with the Isaac Mayo transcript.

Either way, "Uncle Sam," meaning the United States, began appearing in newspapers from 1813 to 1815 and Brother Jonathan soon appeared. (Ibid.)


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).


An article in the Tulare County Times, January 5, 1878 explained the history of Brother Jonathan was based on George's Washington's reliance on Connecticut Governor John Trumbull during the Revolutionary War. The by-phrase "We must consult Brother Jonathan" resulted in Brother Jonathan becoming "a designation for the whole country, as John Bull has for England."

It's also clear from other 1878 newspaper references that Brother Jonathan in 1878 was still a respected figure and a symbol of America. But in popular culture Jonathan's role had changed since the Civil War and he morphed into the primary symbol of the United States, Uncle Sam.

In a syndicated newspaper article reprinted by The Wynadott Herald, September 26, 1878 titled American Nicknames it was noted that "A native American can not receive a higher compliment than to be styled Brother Jonathan;" This article then explained the origin of Brother Jonathan's name as was for some reason being retold in many other newspapers throughout 1878.

The Wisconsin State Journal (June 26, 1878, p. 1) complimented Brother Jonathan's abilities in international commerce, noting "he will always keep his end level, in international commerce."

In 1878 the morphing of Brother Jonathan into Uncle Sam was also being observed internationally. England's Central Somerset Gazette noted in their September 28, 1878 issue that "To the European who has studied Brother Jonathan through the medium of Sam Slick or the broad caricatures of Yankee Hill, it is a somewhat startling revelation that the young man who was once Brother Jonathan, but has now become Uncle Sam...


An 1873 cartoon showing Brother Jonathan with an American Eagle wounded by “Mormons, Indians, Credit Noblier, and general dishonesty.” LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/LC-USZ62-687711873 and Atlas Obscura


The scheming and less flattering Brother Jonathan was depicted in an 1886 cartoon in the conversation between Mrs. Britannia and Miss Canada about unification:

Mrs. Britannia.—“Is it possible, my dear, that you have ever given your cousin Jonathan any encouragement?”
Miss Canada.—“Encouragement! Certainly not, Mamma. I have told him that we can never be united.”

A Caricature History of Canadian Politics by J.W.A. Bengough, Vol. 1&2, Toronto: The Grip Printing & Publishing Co., 1886


Uncle Sam and Brother Jonathan: Salesman 1876 - 1900

This time period was chosen and the "salesmanship" role because of the invention of the phonograph in 1877 and because by the end of the century Brother Jonathan had largely disappeared.

It's clear from the hundreds of illustrations and covers of magazines like Puck and Judge that Uncle Sam in the 1870's to 1900 was the recognized symbol and personification of the United States government and political matters. Brother Jonathan originated as a regionalist Yankee and had made his name as someone who got results if there was a problem.

But the civil war changed everything and a symbol of the federal government took on a new importance. Post civil war Uncle Sam was the federal government personification. Post civil war Brother Jonathan was more of a social character and an ambassador. Brother Jonathan is seen in more social settings, and perhaps more focused in trade and commerce, promoting U.S.A. consumer interests and products (although in more of these salesman roles the "salesman" would increasingly be identified as "Uncle Sam."

There is an interesting distinction of roles identified in a Wikipedia article which cites an article in the 1893 The Lutheran Witness (December 7, 1893 "A Bit of Advice" The Lutheran Witness p. 100) providing the following role clarification for the same person:

Brother Jonathan and Uncle Sam were different names for the same person: "When we meet him in politics we call him Uncle Sam; when we meet him in society we call him Brother Jonathan. Here of late Uncle Sam alias Brother Jonathan has been doing a powerful lot of complaining, hardly doing anything else."

I see some truth to that. But I think Brother Jonathan is also important because Brother Jonathan was part of popular culture and a symbol of the United States. Uncle Sam was redefined, Brother Jonathan disappeared, and most people don't know that he had even existed.

Columbia and Liberty were also symbols of America and were seen with Uncle Sam or Brother Jonathan supporting whatever role they were playing. Columbia, as the namesake of the Columbia Phonograph Company, of course has her own story.


Brother Jonathan Promoting Mrs. Pott's Sad Irons

Since this is a Phonographia scrapbook the first example of "salesman" by Uncle Sam/Brother Jonathan has a connection with the phonograph.

In that phonograph connected advertisement an unidentified Uncle Sam/Brother Jonathan is promoting Mrs' Potts Sad Irons in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 1, 1878. Brother Jonathan/Uncle Sam 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. There are other illustrations in Frank Leslie's from 1875 - 1878 which identify Uncle Sam by name but this ad doesn't. (2)


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


Another Mrs. Pott's Sad Irons trade card circa 1878 (possibly released during or shortly after the Philadelphia World's Exposition of 1876) shows Miss Columbia ironing Brother Jonathan's hat with her Mrs. Potts' Sad Iron. Miss Columbia addresses the figure in the kitchen as "Brother Jonathan." His chin is very pointed (possibly a short pointed beard in contrast to Brother Jonathan commonly being clean shaven). His coat with the stars and his pants with the stripes reveal the morphing of Brother Jonathan with Uncle Sam taking place. Brother Jonathan's profile seems similiar to the 1873 cartoon of Brother Jonathan with his short beard talking to his beaten-up bird of freedom ("A Badly Used Bird").

I believe this Miss Columbia in the Kitchen trade card promoting Mrs. Potts' Sad Iron where he is identified as Brother Jonathan, the popular culture opinion of still having respect of "being styled Brother Jonathan," and his association with international trade in 1878 each add weight to the identification of the figure turning the phonograph crank in the Mrs. Potts' Sad Iron ad of June 1, 1878 as being Brother Jonathan.


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.

Back of Miss Columbia in the Kitchen and Why Trade Card.


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 was respected and standing 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

Brother Jonathan is the greeter to the United States first World's Fair and the United States of America's face and ambassador to the world.


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 (or possibly Brother Jonathan) 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 Jonathan with his clean shaven face 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 (fuller beard and stars on hat) advertising Preston & Merrill's Yeast Powder trade card, printed by Bancroft - Lith - S.F. circa 1880's. (Courtesy Dave Cheadle)


Uncle Sam (or Brother Jonathan?) Circumstances of the room would seem to fit Brother Jonathan. Frank Miller's Blacking, Trade card by Mayer, Merkel & Ottmann, Lithographers, N.Y., circa 1880's.


Uncle Sam (or Brother Jonathan?) 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 (since he's identified in the following ad for "Uncle Sam's Reward.")


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 stars on his hat and holding a 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 eventually 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)