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Archibald Willard, 1836-1918, was an Ohio artist who created a partnership with the publisher and photographer, James F. Ryder, before the Civil War. After his service, he continued his partnership with Ryder who successfully sold many of the sketches Willard had done during the war.

His most famous painting was originally painted as a 8 x 10 mural and he named it "Yankee Doodle." It was painted for the first Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia. His mural was started in 1875 in an upstairs bedroom in his home. It was soon decided that a move to a professional studio would be appropriate and he moved to Cleveland and took up residence in the studio of Willis Adams. As a result of the move, Willard's father Samuel, became the model for the old drummer.

After the mural was shown several times, it was suggested that he change the name from "Yankee Doodle" to avoid the association with its origins as a British song used to poke fun at the Americans. The suggestion was "The Spirit of '76" and Willard reluctantly agreed. Historically, the Yankee Doodle tune was created by the British but it was quickly adopted by the Americans as theirs and it quickly became an expression of American patriotism. Willard painted several smaller versions of what had became known as "The Spirit of '76."

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