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 "I Want You For U.S. Army" poster. More than four million copies of the iconic image were reproduced during World War I alone, ensuring Flagg’s place in history as the creator of, and model for, the most famous likeness of Uncle Sam.
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 thei...
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.
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Recent News: Propaganda War Posters
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Exhibit explores Chinese immigrants' inclusionChinadaily USA, October 21st
Chin and her father-in-law Chin On went to work translating war posters to Chinese. She also joined other women to form a Chinatown unit of the American Woman's Voluntary Services, pictured in uniforms with white gloves standing at attention in the...Read more
Exhibition in Taupo: Towards The PrecipiceVoxy, October 13th
The use of posters as propaganda tools came of age during World War I. Their aim was two-fold: in Britain, to encourage male recruitment, and in all major participating countries, to inspire home front support for the war. Posters were cheap to produce...Read more
Seaside railway posters go under hammer in New YorkBBC News, October 11th
A collection of vintage railway posters is expected to fetch £9,000 when it goes under the hammer in New York on Tuesday. Northampton-born Henry George Gawthorn was one of the artists who created the five pre-war posters to promote East Anglia's ...Read more
New fall exhibitions at Museum of Fine Arts, DHC/ARTPlattsburgh Press Republican, October 1st
The exhibition, which opens on Veteran's Day, Nov. 11 (Remembrance Day in Canada), pays tribute to the 100th anniversary of the war through a collection of war posters produced by Canada, France, Germany, England and the United States. It continues ...Read more
Images: American propaganda posters from the First World WarCanada.com, September 26th
During the First World War, posters were commonly used by all sides of the conflict to rally support for the government. The posters would typically appeal to citizens' sense of loyalty and patriotism. The United States didn't enter the war until April...Read more
World War I revisited in posters and mapsBoston Globe, September 25th
A selection of war posters from different countries are part of the “Over There! Posters from different countries are presented in “Over Here” at the Boston Athenaeum. The war to end all wars, didn't. What it did do, eventually, was inspire many...Read more
Art center honoring WWII heroes: Myriad veteran events start this weekFergus Falls Daily Journal, September 24th
Artists and photographers who had been employed by the WPA during the Great Depression now turned their creativity to war posters. They included artists like Ben Shahn, Walker Evans, John Vachon (a St. Paul native) and Thomas Hart Benton. In 1943 ...Read more
Classic Posters of Britain's Powerful Women of WW2Forces TV, September 19th
The National Archives have published a series of Second World War posters. Here are some featuring women & the important role they played during World War Two. The image depicts workers, in an oversized basket, collecting the potato harvest, with the ...Read more