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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Past Tense Oregon: War posters go on display Saturday at Oregon Historical ...OregonLive.com, February 27th
Past Tense Oregon: War posters go on display Saturday at Oregon Historical Society. 1 / 5. bayonet.jpg. This "Buy War Bonds" poster from early World War II is typical of the the kind of posters that were issued in an effort to get the public to buy...Read more
Tails of Marin: Misunderstood pit bulls coming back in favorMarin Independent Journal, February 23rd
Pete the Pup from “The Little Rascals” was a pit bull, and pit bull mixes graced the covers of magazines, advertisements and war posters. As time progressed and various other breeds of dogs gained and lost popularity, pit bulls slipped out of the...Read more
Still Groping for AnswersPatriot Post, February 23rd
FDR's administration published war posters showing a Nazi dagger stabbing into the Christian Bible. 'Our Enemy' was the caption. President Roosevelt's personal message and signature was included in hundreds of thousands of Bibles – New Testament and ...Read more
Obama's ISIS Policy: 'Above US Only Sky'Patriot Post, February 21st
FDR's administration published war posters showing a Nazi dagger stabbing into the Christian Bible. “Our Enemy” was the caption. President Roosevelt's personal message and signature was included in hundreds of thousands of Bibles – New Testament ...Read more
Brash, Bold, Insolent UngererThe New York Review of Books (blog), February 5th
A sardonic poster for Stanley Kubrick's 1964 Dr. Strangelove (not part of the exhibit) looks forward to the series of well-known anti-war posters, commissioned and rejected by Columbia University, that Ungerer self-published in the late 1960s. The most ...Read more
Artspace.com Launches Signed, Limited Edition of Tomi Ungerer's "Eat"Fine Books & Collections Magazine, February 4th
“I did my Vietnam War posters originally for the peace movement,” said Ungerer to Andrew Goldstein of Artspace in a recent interview, “and they were turned down—they thought they were too harsh. So, I printed them out of my own pocket and distributed ...Read more
World War I revisited in posters and mapsBoston Globe, September 25th
He acquired the first war posters for the library in December 1914. In 1915, the Athenaeum held three exhibitions of them. Continue reading below. The Athenaeum owns some 1,700 posters from the war. Bolton acquired about 500; the rest came from later ...Read more
World War I posters from the home front and abroadBoston Globe, July 31st
Posters from the “Over There!” exhibit include images from the US with a few from England and Austria and other European countries mixed in. World War I, the Great War, the war to end all wars, was not the war to end all propaganda. That may be the...Read more