Americana is our collection of writings, materials and things concerning or characteristic of the United States or of the American people, and is representative or even stereotypical of American culture as a whole. The United States of America is such a glorious mess of contradiction, such a crazy quilt of competing themes, such a fecund mishmash of people and ideas, that defining us is pretty much pointless. There is, of course, a kind of faded notion of “Americana”, one that concerns Route 66, diners, freak rock formations, and the like — but even in its halcyon days this “roadside attraction” version of America was never an accurate or nuanced distillation of our massively complicated culture.

There are scenes and places, concepts and personages, that belong — inextricably, unmistakably — to this country alone. There is an American quality, a tone, an energy … instantly recognizable … Many kinds of cultural artifacts fall within the definition of Americana: the things involved need not be old, but are usually associated with some quintessential element of the American experience. Each period of United States history is reflected by the advertising and marketing of the time, and the various types of antiques, collectibles, memorabilia and vintage items from these time periods are typical of what is popularly considered Americana.

We have undertaken here to give some account of the genesis and development in Americana of certain germinal ideas that have come to be considered traditionally American — How they came into being, how they were opposed, and what influence they have exerted in determining the form and scope of our characteristic ideals and institutions. In pursuing such a task, we have chosen to follow the broad path of our political, economic, and social development.

On September 7, 1813, the United States got its nickname, Uncle Sam. The name is linked to Samuel Wilson, a meat packer from Troy, New York, who supplied barrels of beef to the United States Army during the War of 1812. Wilson (1766-1854) stamped the barrels with “U.S.” for United States, but soldiers began referring to the grub as “Uncle Sam’s.” The local newspaper picked up on the story and Uncle Sam eventually gained widespread acceptance as the nickname for — and personification of — the U.S. federal government.

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