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.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
London Transport Museum Posters
The Civil War
Fillmore and Avalon Collection
New York Public Library
The American Memory Project
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Propaganda War Posters
Source: Google News
Collector's fascination with Old Glory leads to exhibit at Frazier MuseumThe Courier-Journal, March 7th
A salesman's sampler produced in 1912 to introduce the new 48-star flag was used by flag salesmen to show customers the 13 different sizes of flags the company had available. / Photos courtesy of Terry Heffernan ...Read more
Arizona 'anti-gay' bill a battle of hypotheticalsBBC News, February 26th
Do you believe a pacifist should be coerced to paint pro-war posters for a rally? If you believe all these are wrong, you should support Arizona's SB 1062 - because that's what the bill's about rather than the things you may have heard. "The law helps...Read more
Setting the Record Straight on SB 1062Town Hall, February 26th
Do you believe a pacifist should be coerced to paint pro-war posters for a rally? If you believe all these are wrong, you should support Arizona's SB 1062—because that's what the bill's about rather than the things you may have heard. Distortion has...Read more
Soldiers stories uncoveredSouth Yorkshire Times, February 19th
A diorama depicting Laurence Calvert's heroism, which involved him single-handedly battling seven German soldiers to knock out a machine gun post, will be on display with other models from the period, war posters and memorabilia, documents and medals...Read more
Exhibit: The Poster in the Clash of Ideologies traces propaganda at DOXPrague Post, February 16th
Prior to the war, posters were mainly used to sell products, but during and after they served to sell concepts as well. “Tools developed in advertising served this purpose: they demonized the enemy, agitated for support for the war effort by buying...Read more
Art & Antiques | Love is eternal, but themes are notCentre Daily Times, February 15th
While Disney characters appeared on war posters encouraging workers in plants making machines for the war effort, these same cartoon icons also were prominently displayed with messages on valentine cards. Similarly, Daisy Mae and her friends from the ...Read more
Art & Antiques: Vintage Valentines from the 1940sMarconews, February 6th
While Disney characters appeared on war posters encouraging workers in plants making machines for the war effort, these same cartoon icons were also prominently displayed with messages on Valentines cards. Similarly, Daisy Mae and her friends from the ...Read more
Art and Antiques: 1940s valentines highlight cultureRepublican & Herald, February 4th
While Disney characters appeared on war posters encouraging workers in plants making machines for the war effort, these same cartoon icons were also prominently displayed with messages on valentines. Similarly, Daisy Mae and her friends from the Lil ...Read more