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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Visual Arts Archives and Artists' LegaciesBrooklyn Rail, October 5th
My sincere gratitude goes to the Judd Foundation for contributing the inaugural submission: a feature on Donald Judd's anti-war posters. Lastly, I cannot help but recall the document that made a profound mark upon my childhood—the Whole Earth Catalog...Read more
Labour's Corbyn is fighting the last (class) warChicago Tribune, September 30th
I remember sparring about politics with people who used to put up Class War posters at my university three decades ago; hipsters and trustafarians dominated the ranks of the self- proclaimed anarchists in their brand new Timberland boots, their wrists ...Read more
Banksy-Style Anti-War Posters Spotted Across London's Underground As Arms ...Huffington Post UK, September 15th
Fake tube posters, bus stop advertising boards and newspaper adverts have been appearing all over London in protest at a huge international arms fair being held in London. The Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition., taking...Read more
First Captain America: Civil War posters are unmissableHindustan Times, August 28th
The first artwork from the hugely anticipated Marvel sequel Captain America: Civil war has been revealed by actor Jeremy Renner and it's a bombshell. We always knew the superhero sequel would feature an epic clash between Iron Man and Cap, but only ...Read more
12 Best Fake Captain America: Civil War PostersWhatCulture, July 28th
There's a certain irony to how awfully generic most of Marvel's movie posters look. Coming from a company that is literally founded on decades on spectacular visual artwork, they seem to always settle for the lazily photoshopped poster that crams every...Read more
War posters at Dayton museumSidney Daily News (subscription), July 12th
DAYTON — The Dayton Art Institute offers a look back at the World Wars this summer, with the special exhibitions, “Call to Duty: World War Posters” and “Tears of Stone: World War I Remembered, Photographs by Jane Alden Stevens,” on view at the museum ...Read more
Art Nouveau, Travel Scenes, and War Posters at Swann Galleries' Vintage Poster ...Fine Books & Collections Magazine, July 6th
New York—Summer is in full swing and bright images are out in force for Swann Galleries' largest August auction of Vintage Posters to date. With almost 700 lots, the two-part auction scheduled for August 5 will feature several vivid and vivacious...Read more
Uncle Sam wants you: huge collection of first world war posters up for auctionThe Guardian, June 9th
Uncle Sam wants you: huge collection of first world war posters up for auction. Amassed by a US army officer, the collection of 2,000 colourful and patriotic art works from more than 15 countries exhorted citizens to support the war. Some of the first...Read more