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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Under siege: from Leningrad to GazaOpen Democracy, December 15th
Onlookers at a parade in St. Petersburg commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Leningrad with Soviet-era war posters in the background. Demotix/Yury Goldenshtein. All rights reserved. The Nazis tried to starve Leningrad instead of...Read more
History buffs, get ye to BrightonBoston Globe, December 13th
The Brighton Museum & Art Gallery has on display through next June a collection of original First World War posters that tell many stories, including the tactics behind government enlistment campaigns and the plight of refugees from Belgium and other...Read more
Step inside the RW Norton Art GalleryShreveport Times, December 11th
Students of the history of war —or even design — can revisit World War One through a series of propaganda war posters on display until 2018 . The four-year poster exhibition changes every year. Propaganda posters that appeared in the first year of...Read more
Type on Screen: Use Movie Poster Design to Pick A Flick on Netflix InstantPaste 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
Historic war posters owner-curator to speak about exhibitWalla 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
World War I revisited in posters and mapsBoston 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
Anti-war posters on display at 'Voice of Peace' exhibitionKyiv Post, August 22nd
Anti-war posters on display at 'Voice of Peace' exhibition. Print version. Aug. 22, 2014, 7:55 p.m. | About Kyiv — by Iryna Savchuk. A poster showing Russian President Vladimir Putin as Mickey Mouse is one of 100 anti-war posters exhibited at the...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