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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Posters of the First World War on display at Huntington Library
Glendale News Press, September 15th

The era's war posters appeared on public transportation, store windows, magazines and walls. The artifacts in the show are linked to the Huntington's history. Charles Leonard Heartwell (1869-1941) was a financial and civic leader in Long Beach, and he ...Read more

Designing the 20th Century: Life and Work of Abram Games, Jewish Museum ...
Evening Standard, September 15th

Similar short, sharp shocks dominate his best war posters. One, warning of the dangers of too much talk in combat, features a shadowy soldier's head, whose mouth emits soundwaves in a vortex which ends as a bayonet impaling his fellow soldiers...Read more

Jelly bean art returns to Reading museum
Allentown Morning Call, September 12th

Other exhibits at the museum are "Call to Duty: World War Posters," which includes more than 70 original World War I and World War II posters, originally displayed in public locations such as post offices, train stations, city halls, schools, and...Read more

Message on a bottle
Bangkok Post, September 10th

In 2008, Barack Obama wrote in a letter: "Your images have a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a stop sign. I am privileged to be a part of your artwork and proud to have your support. I wish you continued success and creativity."...Read more

WW I Posters Shine at Davison Art Center Exhibit
Wesleyan Connection (blog), September 10th

of the rival powers adopted extensive advertising campaigns to recruit for the military, encourage domestic war work (including encouraging women to be factory workers) and raise money essential for this new “total” war. Posters soon covered train...Read more

Much to See at Reading Public Museum in September
bctv.org, August 29th

Five exhibits will be on display at the museum this fall including Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon, Call to Duty: World War Posters, The American President: Photographs from the Archives of the Associated Press, Deadly Medicine: Creating the...Read more

Anti-war posters on display at 'Voice of Peace' exhibition
Kyiv 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

Russian First World War posters
Design Week, August 20th

An exhibition at London gallery GRAD will examine the artistic legacy of the First World War in Russia and look at posters created throughout the conflict – from propaganda to Futurist. Unknown+artist%2c+Moscow+Artists+for+the+Russian+. Unknown artist ...Read more