“Uncle Sam Beats All Creation”

July 24, 1875

Charles S. Reinhart

“Uncle Sam Beats All Creation”

Anglo-American Relations; Sports and Recreation; Symbols, John Bull; Symbols, Uncle Sam;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

Great Britain; Ireland;

No caption

This cover by C. S. Reinhart celebrates American victories in international rifle competitions.  Uncle Sam walks away with the trophy won at Dollymount, a shooting range outside Dublin, Ireland, while championship cups from other matches fill his carpetbag.  In the background stand his disappointed rivals from (left-right) Ireland, England, and Scotland.

Shooting competitions that test the accuracy of marksmen date to ancient times with archery contests, centuries before the invention of firearms (A.D. 1300).  In 1477, the first known rifle match occurred in Bavaria (Germany).  In 1504, a Swiss painter depicted a rifle competition with shooters, targets, markers, wind flags, judges, scorekeepers, and spectators.  Other evidence also indicates that target shooting was a popular sport in Europe, particularly Germanic regions, by the sixteenth century.

In colonial America, target shooting was a favored pastime, often associated with training or drilling days for local militia.  Taverns, too, organized shooting matches and offered prizes in order to generate more business.  The popularity of marksmanship contests grew in the post-colonial era, especially in the frontier region of the new nation.  Contestants paid an entrance fee and usually supplied their own target.  Rules were agreed upon and announced before the match, and the winners were those who hit the bull's-eye most often or drove a center nail in the farthest.  The top finishers divided the prizes, such as portions of a butchered cow, according to rank.  It was common for side bets to be placed on the contestants.

In more urban areas of the United States, shooting clubs attracted middle-class members in the decades before the Civil War, while working-class artisans took off "Saint Monday" to attend shooting matches or other sporting events.  In 1871, officers from the National Guard formed the National Rifle Association in order to improve marksmanship.  By the end of the century, shooting galleries were popular sites at fairs and amusement parks like Coney Island.

Keen interest in target shooting also pervaded the British Isles in the nineteenth century.  In the 1850s, clubs formed for long-range shooting, the national acclaim of which was attested when Queen Victoria fired the opening shot at the first long-range competition in 1860.  In 1873, an Irish rifle team defeated national teams from Scotland and England, and then issued a challenge to the United States.  At the match on Long Island, New York, in 1874, the ranges of 700, 800, and 900 meters, were far longer than any American had previously shot in competition (550 meters), but the Americans came away victorious.

In 1875, an American rifle team traveled to Great Britain and Ireland, where they competed against Irish, Scottish, and English marksmen.  A practice match took place at Dollymount Range, two miles outside of Dublin, on June 17, in which the Irish narrowly edged the Americans.  On June 29, the international match memorialized in this cartoon also took place at Dollymount, with the Americans triumphing over the Irish.  

Harper's Weekly ran a corresponding story about the match, describing each rifleman, detailing the scores, and reporting the event as it had unfolded.  The Lord Mayors of Dublin and London, and an estimated crowd of 30,000 by the afternoon, attended the match.  Participants joined together in the evening at a banquet hosted by the Lord Mayor of Dublin.  The next day, the Americans won the Spencer Cup at another contest open to all qualified shooters.  On July 7, they won a shooting match at Lord Dufferin's grounds near Belfast (note the cup in Uncle Sam's carpetbag).  The Americans then traveled to England and Scotland for other shooting matches.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Uncle Sam Beats All Creation”
July 14, 2024

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