In 1960, while cleaning out an unused area of the artist Lenore Tawney’s studio, Indiana uncovered a cache of nineteenth-century brass stencils originally used for labeling crates and packaging. These objects sparked his interest in using stenciled letters in his paintings and sculptures, and one in particular, “The American Hay Company,” inspired his use of words in a circular format.
The artist began using these stencils to create drawings in 1961, when he started experimenting in frottage, a technique that involves rubbing a medium such as pencil or crayon onto a sheet of paper that has been placed on top of a textured object or surface. The American Die employs the design of "The American Hay Company" stencil, however the word "hay" has been changed to "man," and the word "die" appears twice, in a cruciform design within the circle. Die is a word that is found consistently in Indiana’s work, both individually, in works such as Die (1962/1984), and alongside other words in works such as The Demuth American Dream No. 5 (1963) and Column Eat/Hug/Die (1964). Indiana linked the word die closely to the word eat, eat having been the last word that his mother said before she died.