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James Montgomery Flagg was born on June 18, 1887 in Pelham Manor, New York. As a child, Flagg loved sketching with pen and paper. In fact, his first published painting was at the age of twelve by the then popular magazine St. Nicholas Magazine. By the age of fourteen, he was a regular contributor to Life Magazine. A year later, he was hired to be on the staff of Judge Magazine. Flagg continued to contribute by drawing famous celebrity portraits for the popular magazines front covers. Although Flagg went to the prestigious Art Students League, he attributes most of his knowledge and talent in art to the many drawing he saw by others working with the magazines.
In 1916, Flagg turned in a painting he was commissioned to do for Leslie’s Magazine. The cover read, “What are you doing for preparedness?” After seeing this, the U.S. government asked Flagg to adapt the man to a war poster. This figure later became known as Uncle Sam. There have been numerous questions as to Uncle Sam’s true identity. As far as the physical appearance goes, it is indeed James Montgomery Flagg himself. Flagg usually posed for himself to save money on not hiring models for his artworks. As for the pointed finger, Flagg borrowed that idea from a British propaganda poster featuring Lord Horatio Kitchener with the same pose asking the same question. The character itself has two stories about it. The first states that Uncle Sam was indeed a real person named Samuel Wilson. Samuel Wilson was a meat packer during the war of 1812. Sam would donate generous amounts of meat to the soldiers of the American army. People say this character was perfect to uphold the values of the United States which were fairness, reliability, and honesty. The other story behind the Uncle Sam name is that it matches the acronyms for the United States (U.
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The government hired Flagg to do more posters for the war. In all, he made forty six propaganda posters for the war. 4 million copies were made of uncle sam alone. Although many of his posters are unique, most of them included the now famous Uncle Sam character as a symbol for America. The character was adopted as an image for America all over the world. Monty Flagg died in 1960 at the age of 82 in New York.