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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

WW2 Posters

WW2 Posters

Ben Perry's Flickr photoset of almost 3,000 World War Two government posters. Hard to describe the breadth and dept… [read review or visit site]

USSR Posters

USSR Posters

Ben Perry's Flickr photoset showcasing almost 1500 Soviet propaganda, advertising, theatre and movie posters from 1… [read review or visit site]

myArmoury.com

myArmoury.com

This resource for historic arms and armour collectors provides exhaustive information on modern reproductions (cust… [read review or visit site]

London Transport Museum Posters

London Transport Museum Posters

A must-see collection of 5,000 vivid, colorful British posters from the early 1900s onward. Browse by artist (over … [read review or visit site]

The Civil War

The Civil War

Paul McWhorter’s amazing reference site tells the story of the Civil War through high resolution scans of Harpers… [read review or visit site]

Fillmore and Avalon Collection

Fillmore and Avalon Collection

Wish you'd visited San Francisco in the late 1960s? Get a quick hit with this comprehensive collection of psychedel… [read review or visit site]

New York Public Library

New York Public Library

The New York Public Library's impressive Digital Gallery offers free access to over 500,000 historical images inclu… [read review or visit site]

The American Memory Project

The American Memory Project

This amazing Library of Congress site includes about a hundred photo and document collections (see complete list) o… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Ww2 Original Fougasse: Careless Talk Poster “you Never Know Who’s Listening”Ww2 Original Fougasse: Careless Talk Costs Lives -”strictly Between" PosterJoin The Marine Corps 1917 Wwi Marine Corps. Recruiting PosterWw2 Original Fougasse: Careless Talk Poster -“strictly Between You And Me…"Ww2 Original Fougasse: Careless Talk Costs Lives - Don’t Forget That .. PosterWw2 Original Fougasse: Careless Talk Poster - ”of Course There’s No Harm In You"Ww2 Original Fougasse:careless Talk Costs Lives - Be Careful What You Say PosterWw2 Original Fougasse : Careless Talk Costs Lives”but Of Course It..poster1942 Original Ww2 Civilian Civil Defense Insignia Poster Military Us 40"x28"Original Wwii Era Civil Defense Your Wardens PosterWw2 Original Fougasse :careless Talk Costs Lives - But For Heaven’s Sake, PosterOriginal 1917 Wwi United States Food Adm Victory Fuel For Fighters 21x29 PosterRare Wwii Era Coca-cola Advertising Sign / Poster "for The Party" G.i. BicycleRare Wwi U.s. Marines "walking John" Recruiting Poster, Not A Repro!, 28x42 In.Ww2 Dutch Waffen Ss Original Propaganda Poster RrrrrBelgium Monaco Budapest Suffragete Suffrage War Italy Poster Labels(ap140)au7758Huge 46x32 Original Third Reich Era German Winterhilfswerk (whw) Lottery Poster!Ww2 Original, Poster Rags For Salvage Will Give The Troops More BlanketsOriginal 1967 United States Navy Seabees Cardboard Poster!Ww2 Original, Poster In Cartoon Format Reminder No. 3 Camouflage Chart No. 14 COriginal Wwii Poster (cartoon Format) Reminder No. 2 Camouflage Chart No. 14 BVance Kelly Aliens This Time It War Poster Print Hero Complex Green Mondo ArtistThe Pacific Hbo Wwii Usmc Iwo Jima Peleliu Autographed Signed Poster Photo AutoOriginal 1917 Wwi United States Food Adm. Blood Or Bread 21” X 29” PosterOriginal Ww1 Poster "books For Soldiers - Banish Lonely Hours In Camps!" 40x28Original 1917 Wwi Propaganda Poster Women! Help America's Sons, 2nd Liberty LoanThe Enola Gay National Air & Space Poster 1995 Signed By Pilot And Crew RareOriginal World War One Ww1 Wwi Bond / War Saving Stamp Poster- War MemorobiliaSeason 22 Amazing Race 11 Vietnam Propaganda Posters Props For The ShowRare Original Ww2 Victory Poster 22x16 "we'll Take Care Of The Rising Sun" Original Ww Ii Navy Day October 27th Poster Battleship Image Military Naval Old1942 Wwii War Production Board General Eisenhower Thank God Home Front Poster1930 Vintage Soviet Propaganda Poster Russian Socialist Realism Revolution UssrMalcolm X Russian Propaganda PosterVintage Original President Roosevelt Poster - 1942 Wwii War Time By C. Moss - Original Us Army Rangers Viet Nam Era Recruiting Poster Easel Back Stand UpVintage 1970 Houston Blacklight & Poster Dist. Co. "war Queen Ii"Boer War Vanity Fair Poster Very ScarceOriginal German Ww2 Poster - BismarckOriginal German Ww2 Poster - Richard Wagner1970s Linen Communist China Mao On Docks Cultural Revolution Propaganda Poster Original German Ww2 Poster - VictoryOriginal German Ww2 Poster - Guarantee Of VictoryVintage 1974 "airborne" 82d Division Fort Bragg, North Carolina PosterOriginal German Ww2 Poster - Friedrich Der GrosseOriginal German Ww2 Poster - Friedrich Der Grosse Quote 1941Wwii Aaf Army 1943 Barracks Weather Flight Poster Lt Harbaugh EstateVintage 1970 Houston Blacklight & Poster Dist. Co. "war Queen"Original Canvas Chinese Mao Cultural Revolution Propaganda Poster C1970 41" X 30War Why Can't We Be Friends? W/posterWwii U.s. Army Aircraft Warning Service Large Aircraft Poster From The Post #2Wwii U.s. Army Aircraft Warning Service Large Aircraft Poster From The Post1863 Poster Of Scenes Of The War In Virginia 1890 Print1950s Military Air Force Interceptor Poster F-102 Aviation Safety Delta DaggerWw2 Spain War Poster Of Uncut 10 Cupons 1953 Franco´s Hidroairplane Flight 1926Ww1 Recruiting Poster Vad Voluntary Aid Detachment British Nurse New A4 Print 2Ww1 Recruiting Poster British Army O'leary Irish Guards 10 Germans New A4 Print Noblespirit No Reserve{3970}attractive Uncle Sam 'i Want You' Recruitment PosterWe Love Fine Star War Men's "never Tell Me The Odds" Poster Graphic Sz MMetal Sign Wall Plaque "world War Iii Iv Weapons" Albert Einstein Quote Poster