New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects

New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects


Each region of the nation has its own distinctive history and identity. The New York’s Capital Region—consisting of Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Saratoga Counties—is no different. But what best identifies the region? What events, objects, people, and ideas have contributed to its character and uniqueness?

To learn the answers, we presented these questions to the numerous museums, historical organizations, libraries, and residents of the Capital Region. The fifty objects that were ultimately selected present an exciting history of the Capital Region, including well-known favorites but also unexpected surprises. Some of the fifty objects characterize very broad topics like the textile industry and the Hudson River School of art, while others embody large populations of people who shaped the character of the region, such as the Dutch and the Iroquois. Many objects represent specific people or events, such as writer William Kennedy and the Battle of Saratoga. In some instances, the objects represent themselves, like the GE Monitor Top refrigerator and Albany’s beloved Nipper statue. A complementary image accompanies each of the fifty objects, providing context and additional information.

Overall, the fifty objects clearly demonstrate that this narrowly circumscribed part of New York State has played an astonishing role in shaping the history of the nation and, in several instances, the world beyond the confines of our national borders.

Uncle Sam

It was the meat packing business and the War of 1812 that transformed Troy resident Samuel Wilson into the iconic figure known as Uncle Sam. Wilson was born in Menotomy (now Arlington), Massachusetts, in 1766, and at the age of twenty-three he and his brother Ebenezer relocated to the village of Troy, New York. In the late eighteenth century Troy was just a small community but was beginning to attract significant numbers of New Englanders because of its abundant waterpower, rich agricultural land, and growing commercial opportunities.

During the war of 1812, Samuel Wilson oversaw provisions from Troy that were being sent to soldiers. Once ready for shipment, the casks were marked with the abbreviation “U.S.” Due to the novelty of the abbreviation, receivers of the casks did not know that U.S. meant United States. Instead, they joked the provisions came from Uncle Sam, referring to Samuel Wilson. This story became nationally recognized in 1961 when the U.S. Congress approved the resolution declaring Samuel Wilson the “real” Uncle Sam.

Today, the site most associated with Uncle Sam Wilson is 144 Ferry Street, Troy, the lot where he lived from the 1820s to his death in 1854. In 1989, Hartgen Archeological Associates conducted a site survey of the property and excavated this handsome chamber pot, certainly one owned by Samuel Wilson and his family.

Uncle Sam’s Chamber Pot

Unidentified maker, England


Slip-decorated earthenware

Courtesy of the Rensselaer County Historical Society, Troy, New York

“I Want You” U.S. Army Recruiting Poster

Designed by James Montgomery Flagg | c. 1940

Designer: Designed by James Montgomery Flagg

Printer: Printed by Leslie Judge Co., New York City

Medium: Photomechanical print on paper

Credit: Albany Institute of History & Art

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