If you’re driving on a highway in the middle of America’s vast, flat interior, it’s possible that the only artwork you may encounter for many hours at a time is a colorful mural applied to the flat sides of a rental moving truck. I suspect everyone reading this has seen what I’m talking about: those big mural graphics on the sides of U-Haul vans, trucks, and trailers, usually themed by a given U.S. state or some kind of fact, often about animals. They’re fun! When you’ve been staring at a gray Oklahoma horizon for what feels like a clamtillion hours, having a huge colorful picture of a spy plane or a meat-eating plant or a red panda drive past your window may be the only thing that staves off the advent of Road Madness. U-Haul calls these mobile murals SuperGraphics, and I just learned that they almost all have a little Easter Egg hidden in them, in the form of a strange little guy named Sammy U.
Somehow this important tidbit of modern life had eluded me all these decades. I found out only a few days ago when our own David Tracy rented a U-Haul van to haul the piles of rusty garbage he euphemistically calls his “stuff” from Detroit to Los Angeles. His U-Haul, which he found to be a profoundly luxurious and decadent machine, had a graphic on the side that featured a large camel’s head, and a fact about how camels once migrated across the Yukon. Here, look for yourself:
There’s that big, majestic camel head! Now, what I was told by a U-Haul employee when we were picking up the truck was that there was “a little guy holding a U” hidden in all of these graphics. I wasn’t sure what the guy looked like, but, intrigued, I scrutinized the mural, seeking out any little dudes that might be sequestered within. In a few minutes, I caught a lucky break and saw this:
Hey! There is a little guy with a U there! Who is this fella? Well, a bit of research revealed that this is Sammy U, and he works for U-Haul in their fictional cartoon mascot division. Also, I think I disagree with the U-Haul employee: Sammy isn’t holding a U, his arms are a U. His handless, thick, always upraised arms form a vowel, and that’s just something he has to live with. He’s smiling and winking, so I guess he’s cool with it.
Sammy U has been U-Haul’s mascot since 1947, just a few years after U-Haul’s founding in 1945 by Leonard Samuel Shoen and his wife Anna Mary after they found there was no real way for people to move on their own without the expense of hiring a moving company. You can see a 1950s-era Sammy U (presumably named after the founding L.Sammy) on a truck here:
It appears that for most mainstream use, Sammy U has been retired and replaced with a sort of cardboard golem named Box Man:
Holy crap, you can buy Box Man toys? I suppose he’s also a real gift to lazy Halloween costume DIYers, too.
Box people aside, the U-Haul story is actually full of drama; Shoen had 12 (maybe 13?) kids, and they all had shares in the company, but there was a lot of infighting. And not just boring infighting. We’re talking literal fistfights at board meetings and accusations of murder. That’s pretty dark stuff, though, we’re just talking about a little old-school mascot being hidden in some fun truck graphics, after all, so let’s get back to that.
The whole SuperGraphics program started in 1988 and there are over 250 individual ones. The SuperGraphics that contain the hidden mascot were designed by Steve King, who was contracted to make the designs starting in 1997 and continuing until 2013. Here’s what King has to say about hiding Sammy in his images:
The first four graphics I designed (Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, and California) do not have the little guy incorporated in it. It wasn’t until the fifth graphic (Arizona) that the character appeared in the artwork. While researching reference I stumbled across a logo stamped in a computer microchip under a microscope. I decided to incorporate the mascot in the graphic and it became a “must have” in every graphic. At the time, my six year old daughter Samantha (no relation to “Sammy U” just a coincidence) would tell me where to hide “Sammy U” for each graphic. She has been hiding them for me through the entire series, until she was 23.
King’s site also has a guide of where to find Sammy on a number of the graphics; I don’t want to spoil the joy of discovery for you, so I won’t re-post that here, but if you want to cheat, here’s the link.
Finding Sammy U isn’t exactly easy; he’s small and pretty well camouflaged into the designs, so I wouldn’t recommend Sammy hunting if you’re actually driving. But if you see one parked, I think it’s a worthwhile use of your time to try and hunt the little guy down. Could be a great way to kill time in parking lots if you need to! Embrace the mundane mysteries of life!
Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.
I Drunk-Bought A Fiberglass Former U-Haul Rental Camper And It’s Fantastic
Moving David Is Still Awful And He Thinks A U-Haul Is Luxurious: Cold Start
Chevrolet Redesigned Its Commercial Truck Headlight In Such A Confusing Way I Had To Get Our Designer To Explain It To Me
Nissan Owes Us This Cheap Commercial Truck
Did you know…
Only one artist created all the graphics for the entire U-Haul fleet “Ventures Across America & Canada” campaign? Steve King, former artist for U-Haul reveals hidden details, facts, and images on his website: http://www.kingillustration.com/u-haul-graphics.html
Bonus: The hiding places of Sammy U revealed in all the original graphics here: http://www.kingillustration.com/hidden-character-in-u-haul-graphics.html
Very cool. reminds me of looking for ‘NINA’ in Al Hirschfeld drawings.
Looking for the star on tootsipop wrappers.
“His handless, thick, always upraised arms…”
Earlier versions include serifs, so… maybe hands? Maybe just cuffs? I’ll leave it up to U.
The only U-haul graphic guy featured should be Jack Torrence.
“Arms raised in a…U
The dead lay in pools of maroon below
L. Samuel didn’t give attention
Oh, to the fact that mommy didn’t care
King Sammy U the Wicked
Oh, he ruled his world”
I only want my Camel artwork to have easily identifiable phallic imagery. Or at the very least, a Jeremy with arms raised in a V.
I am just happy and relieved that David has the U-Haul: it seems to be the least risky way to transport his stuff DIY-style from A to B.
The nature of that “stuff” is a topic for another day, I think. One step at a time. 🙂
I thought he woulda gotten a bigger one though. It looks like he rented the 2nd smallest truck they offer, it’s not even a dually.
He already got most of his stuff moved, it just needs to hold a couple couches, a mattress, and some bookshelves that weren’t burned
“Why did you hit the truck?”
“He actually hit me officer.”
“I was pacing him just looking for Sammy and boom.”
Great way to spend time while your E car charges!
That Uhaul has a fucking AUX input jack!
That’s a life saver out there in the flatlands of Oklahoma.
I’ve driven a Uhaul across that coma inducing landscape too many times (twice). Pre smart phone era, with nothin but good ole Christian radio stations or cicadas to listen to.
Being an old I like driving across states and finding small privately owned AM radio stations. It brings back the way radio used to be pre I-heart. Every one has its own personality.
I’m particularly delighted when I come across “Tradio”, the show where people call in with things they are selling or want to buy. They inevitably have regular callers and it gets chatty.
“Sandy’s on the line..what have you got for us today Sandy?”
“Hey Jim…today I’m selling a pair of 15″ snow tires, a spice rack, and good news, Grandpa’s Meds came in so I’ve got……”
The U is just that a U that he is hauling, not his arms.
At the local evening post-Audubon-Christmas-Bird-Count [I think the “post-” prefix demands a fully-hyphenated dependant clause; prove me wrong] gathering, one participant claimed a Goshawk — a bird utterly unknown in the Pacific Northwest. When challenged for verification of such an outrageous claim, said claimant produced a digital snapshot of a U-Haul SuperGraphic featuring some state’s bird, emblazoned on a truck that happened to have driven past.
In Birder circles, this substantially exceeded the Hilarious Minimum.
Is uhaul.com blocked for Europeans? The site won’t load for me.
Is there a European equivalent of Uhaul?
Looks like it. They probably don’t want to deal with GDPR.
Can’t imagine why…
Yeah consumer protections are such a bummer.
Also like Terence Cuneo paintings (I think the ones from the mid-50s onwards) that all contain a mouse somewhere.
Are we not going to explore why Box Man is standing in a puddle?
I assume the story of Box Man deserves its own article, so we’ll have to wait to find out. It looks like he pissed himself, and he should probably move quick, liquid and cardboard don’t mix!
Being older than some here, I recall in my youth looking for the hidden Bunny logo on the cover of Playboy mags.
Of course this was after reading all of the articles…
I remember when Sammy-U was featured prominently on the trucks and print media. Mostly because U-Haul was kind of renowned during the 70s-80s for having an ancient fleet, and the old 1960s trucks with Sammy were still around.
It wasn’t until more recent times that they committed to keeping their fleet more modernized and better-maintained. (Which is not to say you can’t still get a dud, but trust me, today’s U-Haul is like Fantasy Island compared to the U-Haul of old…)
The murder comments came from Anna Mary, after giving birth to the last of a dozen children, and were directed to Leonard Samuel, and had to do with what she would do to him if he ever again dared to stray over from his half of the bed.
For those curious, camel meat tastes like a cross between lamb and beef in my opinion.
I’d say that’s close, though the camel i had was apparently a poor cut. way too fatty, just kinda gross.
Much preferred the local shawarma.
“… his arms are a U. His handless, thick, always upraised arms form a vowel, and that’s just something he has to live with.”
What with the reddish colour, I’m getting bad Owen Meany vibes.
Not to be confused with Watahantowet’s totum.