You probably don’t recognize the name James Montgomery Flagg, but I guarantee you know his face.
At the peak of his career, Flagg was said to be the highest paid magazine illustrator in all of America. Flagg’s version of Uncle Sam is one of the most celebrated icons in American culture. Between 1917-1918, the government printed off over four million copies of Flagg’s “I Want You for U.S. Army” posters to boost recruiting efforts during World War I.
The face behind the illustrator’s bold, powerful Uncle Sam? According to some accounts, it was Flagg himself. As one version of the story goes, Flagg aged himself with makeup, affixed a fake goatee to his chin and grabbed a mirror, using himself as a model. While the Uncle Sam character had existed decades before Flagg was even born, the depictions of Sam were inconsistent. Whether it had to do with timing, artistic ability, or simply having the right look, the Flagg self-portrait rendition of Uncle Sam stuck.
While James Montgomery Flagg was prolific in his day — even attracting the admiration of FDR himself — his style of illustration eventually fell out of fashion and his name faded into obscurity. But his face remained forever etched in American culture as the most iconic symbol of the U.S. government.
In 2006, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act gave birth to a small agency called the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. While BARDA is now well-known within the pharma industry and beyond, name recognition wasn’t instantaneous. The agency spent much of its history as a little-known office buried inside the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, quietly aiding the development of various medical countermeasures for a range of chemical, nuclear or biological threats.
When the H1N1 virus emerged in 2009, BARDA partnered with drugmakers to produce a bulk supply of vaccine antigen and adjuvant as well as investigational lots of a H1N1 vaccine. In 2012, after realizing that the national manufacturing capacity for pandemic influenza vaccines had fallen short during H1N1, BARDA oversaw close to $12 million worth of contracts with vaccine makers to preemptively produce master vaccine seed stocks for viruses with pandemic potential. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, BARDA worked with pharma companies to advance therapeutic and vaccine candidates, as well as further expand the industry’s manufacturing readiness.
But it wasn’t until the novel coronavirus pandemic hit that BARDA’s work was truly showcased. The office has been at the center of U.S. response, fielding over 4,000 submissions from companies with potential countermeasures. BARDA has cultivated its partnerships with pharma companies to accelerate the development of needed therapeutics and diagnostics tools. As a driving force behind Operation Warp Speed, the agency has become one of the most prolific government partners in pharma, making headlines for several billion dollar deals with leading vaccine makers. All told, the agency has invested $17 billion into combatting COVID-19.
James Montgomery Flagg was said to have squandered his fleeting fame on celebrity parties, fast cars and beautiful women. BARDA too is not without its flaws as a government agency, having suffered criticism for the demanding amount of oversight it requires on projects, a slow contract award process and internal management issues.
But the agency has certainly proven its worth during the past year. Hoping to nab a 2021 budget of $1.4 billion to fund more partnerships with pharma, BARDA will likely remain a familiar name — and face — in the industry.