During World War I, the U.S. government, contractors, and advertisers alike printed large quantities of posters in order to deliver a variety of propaganda messages to the general public. Because they were printed in large numbers, vintage war posters can be more affordable than you might expect.
Even though the United States would not enter World War I until 1917, the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915 prompted artist Fred Spear to create one of the most famous posters of that era. Titled "Enlist," the color lithograph features a mother cradling her child as both sink into the briny deeps—the call to action, ENLIST, is rendered on the poster in large, blocky letters.
Two years later, with the nation fully engaged in the European conflict, artist James Montgomery Flagg riffed on a famous British war-recruitment poster of the day to create his ...
Another type of vintage World War I recruiting poster featured appeals to women, such as Edward Penfield’s "Yes sir, I am here!" which shows an earnest young woman standing at attention, saluting, and reporting for duty in the Motor Corps of America. The Christy Girl posters, named for their illustrator, Howard Chandler Christy, used smiling, mildly provocative women clad in men’s uniforms to encourage men to enlist in the Navy and Marines.
The vintage war posters of World War II expanded the appeals of patriotism and service to country. Posters encouraged Americans to plant Victory Gardens, to conserve fuel by walking to the store, and to buy war bonds ("Give War Bonds for Christmas" instructs a simple green-and-red, holly-leaf-decorated poster from the U.S. Government Printing Office).
J. Howard Miller’s "We Can Do It!" is perhaps the most famous vintage poster from that period. Published by Westinghouse, it features an illustration of a young female factory worker wearing a red-and-white polka dot headscarf and rolling up the sleeve of her blue work shirt. The woman in the poster is often referred as Rosie the Riveter, but the image was actually taken from a wire-service photograph of a 17-year-old named Geraldine Hoff.
Another category of World War II poster was unabashedly ideological and unapologetically tough in its depiction of the enemy. Karl Koehler and Victor Ancona won an award for their "This is the Enemy," which featured a close-up of the stern, frowning face of a Nazi SS officer, whose monocle reflects a man being hung. The U.S. Office of War Information published artist Ben Shahn’s "This is Nazi brutality"—below the main image of a hooded, manacled prisoner, Shahn had reprinted a Radio Berlin news report of the decimation of the town of Lidice, Czechoslovakia, and the murder of all its adult-male inhabitants.
If the Germans were depicted as evil madmen, the Japanese were portrayed as bucktoothed and inhuman drones. Flagg updated his World War I recruitment poster to create a hatless, muscular Uncle Sam, wrench in hand, with the words "JAP… You’re Next!" above his head. And Douglas Aircraft Company produced numerous unflattering caricatures of the Japanese to encourage its employees to conserve materials, lest they play into the hands of the enemy.
Interviews & Articles
My dad liked Charlie Russell, the Western artist, so we had a few of his prints around the house. I always drew, even as a little … [more]
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Recent News: Propaganda War Posters
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The Tattooed SoldierHuffington Post, June 17th
It was something about the propagandist element of anarchist Spanish Civil War posters, Russian militant imagery and literature, and Latin American heroes of the left that always seemed romantic and that have always influenced my work. The bookstore...Read more
Museum to showcase military memorabiliaSun-Sentinel, June 16th
Veterans Speakers Forum founder/educator Cpl. Burt Richards will lead a curator talk and tour presenting the Purple Heart, Medals of Honor, U.S. military uniforms, war posters and newspaper clippings from 1941. Children can have their pictures taken...Read more
"Far Out Isn't Far Enough": unique art of Tomi UngererPeople's World, June 13th
This led to his designing extreme and poignant anti-Vietnam-War posters. Viewers of this film who are unfamiliar with Ungerer's posters will be startled at the strong and harsh imagery that is shown. They really pack a punch, as reiterated by the...Read more
Julie Fogliano's 'If You Want to See a Whale,' and MoreNew York Times, June 13th
In the 1970s, after generating further controversy with his searing anti-Vietnam War posters and forays into erotic art, Ungerer returned to Europe, where his picture books remain as well known as those by Maurice Sendak, if not more so. In “Fog Island...Read more
Exploring 'black bodies' through war postersThe Daily Pennsylvanian, June 5th
Exploring 'black bodies' through war posters. Posters from professor Tukufu Zuberi's personal collection trace the history of black bodies in political campaigns. By Amanda Suarez · June 5, 2013, 10:59 pm ...Read more
TV host's black war posters focus of Pa. exhibit | Malaysia SunMalaysia Sun, June 2nd
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A new exhibit created by a University of Pennsylvania professor and host of a popular public television show examines how wartime propaganda has been used to motivate oppressed populations to risk their lives for homelands that ...Read more
TV host's black war posters focus of US exhibitAsbury Park Press, June 1st
In this Thursday, May 30, 2013 photo, University of Pennsylvania professor and PBS History Detectives host Tukufu Zuberi speaks about an Italian 1942 broadside matted on canvas by Gino Boccasile during an interview with The Associated Press at the ...Read more
Has Adam Kokesh been kidnapped by the Feds? Alex Jones tells allWashington Times, May 20th
He was arrested for putting anti-war posters up in a national park despite police warnings; he scaled barriers to keep protesters off of Capitol grounds.” Lilyea continues, “Kokesh put up racist, anti-Muslim posters on George Washington University...Read more