F.J. Howard | Shake Hands with Uncle Sam




Everyone is familiar with the iconic figure of Uncle Sam. With his white beard and stars and stripes suit he is instantly recognizable. Uncle Sam, the personification of the American government, is America’s national symbol. The term, Uncle Sam is reputed to be derived from a Troy-based New York meat packer named Samuel Wilson, who supplied rations for the U.S. army. Such was the appeal of Uncle Sam that a congressional joint resolution designated September 13th 1989 as ‘Uncle Sam Day,’ (This just happened to be the birthday of Samuel Wilson, ‘Uncle Sam’s’ originator.) And Mr. Wilson might well be thrilled to know that his icon has spawned a veritable cornucopia of marketing opportunities, not least the Uncle Sam strength testing machine.


Companies like F. J. Howard, Caille, and Mutoscope soon jumped on the bandwagon and created coin- operated machines with an Uncle Sam theme. Although all three companies created similar ‘Shake hands with Uncle Sam’ machines, there were distinct differences in their designs. The Caille Uncle Sam was the most elaborate, featuring a full arching marquee and a fuller cabinet with accent pieces. The Mutoscope was similar to the Caille, but it was the Howard machine that broke the mold with its lack of marquee and simple, dedicated lines. Needless to say, there was much jockeying for position with these competing companies, Caille and Howard, producing their products at roughly the same time. True to form, F.J. Howard came up trumps by appealing to the patriotic players. They developed the simple grip strength tester and rendered their version of Uncle Sam with an animated, cartoon style. Howard also painted the figure with a solid color rather than the striped favored by Caille. An example of this solid color can be found in the 1924 post-cubist film, ‘Bal- let Mécanique,’ directed by Fernand Leger, where a Howard Uncle Sam appears on screen for a short time.


The ‘Shake Hands with Uncle Sam’ is one of the most often reproduced penny arcade machines. Today, original Caille and Howard machines are extremely sought after, commanding well in excess of $20,000 apiece.


Read more in No Tampering! A Guide to Papa's Re-creations.

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