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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Type on Screen: Use Movie Poster Design to Pick A Flick on Netflix Instant
Paste Magazine, November 19th

War posters have a sandy color scheme of browns and tans. San-serif, extended and bold typography shouts, for example, “Defiance!” or “Inglorious Basterds!” Imagery includes dynamic scenes like explosions and chopper rescues or banded stills of the...Read more

Durham gallery exhibits look back on the Great War
durhamregion.com, November 11th

One is a display of war posters at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, which is running until Feb. 1, and the other is a variety of wartime memorabilia -- including posters -- open for public viewing at Station Gallery in Whitby until Nov. 23...Read more

New displays mark the Great War at Warrington Museum
Warrington Guardian, November 9th

It features original First World War posters which were sent to Warrington's Library and Museum by the British Government for public display to try to persuade tens of thousands of men to join the armed forces. Janice said: "Brightly coloured posters...Read more

Historic war posters owner-curator to speak about exhibit
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, November 6th

#Poster owner and curator Jim Givan of Yakima began collecting war posters before he began his career in the U.S. Marine Corps. #His wife Sheron joined him, and as the collection grew, so did his knowledge of the military history that gives meaning to...Read more

Woman's passion for Navy memorabilia becomes US Navy Poster Museum
Charleston Gazette, November 1st

“The pre-war posters were kind of bland, not nearly as exciting as the World War II posters with their hunky guys and big ships with big guns,” Fields said. One of Fields' favorite poster artists is Matt Murphey, who produced dozens of colorful posters...Read more

Chronicle Nostalgia: A fascinating World War I exhibition is launched in Gateshead
ChronicleLive, October 30th

Saturday also sees the launch of two exhibitions which will run side-by-side until Thursday, December 11 - Who was George Wood? and a war posters display. In 1914 at the very outbreak of war, George Wood of Gateshead, joined up at the recruiting office ...Read more

WWI posters and propaganda
Buckingham Advertiser, October 30th

A talk on First World War posters and propaganda is being held at the Bucks County Museum on Saturday November 8. Dr Nicholas Hiley, from the University of Kent, will be exploring the power of propaganda throughout the Great War between 2pm and 3pm ...Read more

World War I revisited in posters and maps
Boston Globe, September 25th

Comments. By Mark FeeneyGlobe Staff September 25, 2014. 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...Read more