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Patriotism and Coin Machines
Patriotric Symbols and Coin Machines

The Liberty Bell, Stars and Stripes and Uncle Sam are symbols that adorn many coin operated machines. The manufacturers used these symbols because they were popular decorative images of the era, but more importantly, because they symbolized patriotism, legitimacy, and such American values of individual rights and freedom. Such symbols were important, especially for gambling machines because they were constantly under attack by anti-gambling forces. What could be more legitimate (legal) than the "stars and stripes." What symbolized individual rights and freedom more than the Liberty Bell.

For many of us who grew up in the 1960s - 1980s, it may seem surprising that the flag was used so extensively to decorate commercial items. The appropriate use of flag "etiquette" is however, a fairly recent concern. The whole concept of flag etiquette only started in 1923, when the American Legion objected to the commercial use of the flag in advertising and packaging. Congress did not make it official until 1942.

The figure of Uncle Sam is most frequently used with stamp machines to symbolize that the machines are "government authorized". Uncle Sam, by the way, was a real person named Samuel Wilson who inspected meat for the United States Government during the War of 1812.

After Uncle Sam, as he was generally know by his friends, inspected a box of meat he stamped it with the initials "U" "S" to signify United States, but the soldiers the U S with Uncle Sam and so created a new patriotic symbol.

The image of Uncle Sam that we know today, however, is a creation of Thomas Nast, a popular political cartoonist during the 1860s. The Uncle Sam image was further popularized in the 1880s by the phenomenal success of the Uncle Sam mechanical bank.

The most prominent use of this symbol in our hobby is the life size Shake with Uncle Sam machine. The life size bust of Uncle Sam is decorated in a patriotic red, white, and blue. If you watch peoples' reaction to Uncle Sam, it seems as if everyone wants to shake his hand, much like everyone wants to "squeeze" Charmin tissues.

Their reactions are not surprising since the marque invites you to Shake with Uncle Sam and his outstretched hand entices you further. Since a firm handshake is an indicator of masculinity, you can prove your charisma to friends by taking a firm grip of Uncle Sam's hand and squeezing it as hard as you can. If the dial goes to 300, a bell rings letting all patrons know that you have what it takes.

The original Uncle Sam grip test is extremely rare and costs tens of thousands of dollars.. A small number of replica Uncle Sam have been made. This version of Uncle Sam is an electrified personality indicator. When you shake with Uncle Sam a light rotates, sounds are emitted and the dial indicates whether you are patriotic, tax cheat, strong willed, romantic, hot stuff, cold fish, jealous, etc. It takes quarters and was originally designed so it could be used in commercial establishments, but is also used to decorate gamerooms and personal offices.

If you want more information on Shake with Uncle Sam, visit http://www.GameRoomAntiques.com/UncleSam.htm for several close-up photos.


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Ken Durham
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