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The National Archives

How to look for records of... Propaganda

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1. Why use this guide?

2. getting a search started, 3. the first world war, 1914-1918, 4. the inter-war years, 5. the second world war, 1939-1945, 6. post 1945, 7. empire and commonwealth information and propaganda services, post-1945, 8. further reading.

This guide will help you to locate records held at The National Archives of and relating to British propaganda from 1914 to 1980. Some of these records are available to view online but serious in-depth research on this subject will usually require a visit to our building where you can view a much wider range of documents.

As with almost all searches for documents at The National Archives, the best place to begin is in Discovery, our catalogue . A simple search with the keyword ‘propaganda’ will return thousands of search results, each with its own document reference. To narrow a search that returns unmanageable numbers of references you should use the filters on the left-hand side of the search results page to refine your results by ‘Date’ or ‘Collection’. The ‘Collection’ filter will break down your search results by the government departments which created the records. Typically propaganda records were created by the security services, the Foreign Office, branches of the military and the Cabinet Office, among other departments.

For Cabinet Office papers there are significant numbers of records available to view online, on our  Cabinet Papers 1915-1979 website – again, try searching this site with the keyword ‘propaganda’.

from 1914 to 1916 news, censorship, and propaganda work was carried out by a number of government departments and agencies, often with overlapping activities.

  • The War Office Directorate of Military Operations department MI7 and the Admiralty circulated reports and propaganda to the press in military zones. Discussion of propaganda techniques is in INF 4 , with examples and descriptions of MI7’s work in INF 4/4B and INF 4/1B .
  • The Foreign Office News Department carried out propaganda work abroad. From early 1916 it coordinated the propaganda work of departments in allied and neutral countries. Records for 1914-1915 are in FO 371 , and for 1916-1939 in FO 395 . There is a card index and registers in FO 566 and FO 662 up to 1920, and after 1920, printed indexes which can all be consulted in the reading rooms of The National Archives at Kew .
  • The War Propaganda Bureau produced publications for use in allied and neutral countries
  • The Neutral Press Committee was set up as an advisory body in September 1914. It included newspaper proprietors and journalists and later provided information services to the neutral press

In February 1917 these bodies merged, forming the Department of Information, which then became the Ministry of Information in March 1918.

The Political Intelligence Bureau (records in FO 371) had already transferred to the Foreign Office, and the Enemy Propaganda Bureau to Lord Northcliffe’s Crewe House Committee.

From February 1918 the Department of Propaganda in Enemy Countries reported directly to the War Cabinet.

The Ministry took over responsibility for photographs and films from the War Office. Department and Ministry maintained missions abroad. INF 4 contains examples of the files and work of First World War propaganda departments.

In November 1918 the Ministry of Information was dissolved. The Foreign Office News Department regained responsibility for overseas information and publicity (records in FO 395 ).

A Dominions Information Department was established in 1926 to supply information on foreign policy to the dominions; its records are in FO 372 (1926-1928) and FO 627 (1929-1933). In 1933 it was replaced by the Colonial Office and Dominions Office Public Relations branch (records in FO 372).

Other examples of colonial propaganda may be found in records of the Colonial Office on a country-by-country basis. CO 956 holds copies of posters issued by the Empire Marketing Board, 1927-1933. The Service Departments had set up press offices shortly after the war; DEFE 1 contains examples of work and discussions on propaganda.

From 1934 the British Council fostered educational and cultural links with other countries. Its records are in the BW record series. Records of the British Council section of the Foreign Office are in FO 370 . This became the Cultural Relations Department in 1944 (records in FO 924 , index in FO 409 ). The British Council photographic collection is in INF 11 . Confidential print relating to cultural propaganda for the inter-war years is in FO 431 .

The BBC was encouraged to set up an Empire Service in English in 1932 and a British External Broadcasting Service in 1938. For examples see the BBC Archives .

In 1936 a planning team was set up under the Committee of Imperial Defence to make plans for a Ministry of Information and publicity services in the event of war; papers are in INF 1 and INF 4 .

The Ministry of Information (MOI) had responsibility for news and press censorship, home publicity and propaganda in allied and neutral countries from September 1939. The MOI produced regular Home Intelligence Reports. These were surveys of public opinion during wartime – concerning events, policies, reactions to the MOI’s campaigns, and the state of morale. You can search for MOI reports online .

Papers and examples of the work of the MOI are in:

  • The Ministry of Information files of correspondence – in  INF 1
  • Publicity material issued by the Ministry of Information – in INF 2
  • A complete set of original artwork – in  INF 3 (you can view selected images in The National Archives’  Art of war online exhibition)

A News Division issued material to the home and overseas press, news agencies and the BBC. In allied and neutral countries the MOI was responsible for information policy and publicity, absorbing the Foreign Publicity Department of the Foreign Office. Examples of this work are in FO 898/426 , FO 898/486-528 and FO 898/549-553 . Publicity files between 1938 and 1947 are in FO 930 .

The Foreign Office News Department adopted an information and liaison role. The Crown Film Unit transferred to the Ministry in April 1940 and produced films publicising emergency campaigns and information on wartime events and measures. Records of the film units are in INF 5 , INF 6  and INF 12 .

Crown Film Unit and Army Kinematography Unit publicity films are held in the British Film Institute National Archive . Files of the Ministry of Information Publications Division are in INF 14 . In addition FO 371 contains many examples of overseas propaganda, year by year.

In August 1941 the Political Warfare Executive was formed by an amalgamation of parts of the European sections of the BBC and of the Foreign Publicity Department of the Ministry of Information with Special Operations I, formerly the propaganda section of the Special Operations Executive (records in HS record series). A re-organisation took place in 1942, and a Directorate of Plans and Propaganda Campaigns was formed under a Planning and Policy Committee to plan, initiate and supervise political warfare and propaganda campaigns. This responsibility passed to the Ministry as countries were liberated and the Executive was finally wound up in 1946. Its records are in FO 898  , press summaries of foreign material are in FO 899  and directives are in FO 371.  There are further, supplementary, records in FO 954 (also known as the Eden Papers). You can download images of the Eden Papers  from our website.

Minutes of the Inter-Allied Information Committee, 1940-1943, are in INF 1. Reports and discussion of its work and the possible creation of a United Nations Information Board are FO 371 (1943). FO 371 also contains interesting material, year by year, including the creation of a German-language newspaper for émigrés in 1941 ( FO 371/26554 ).

At the end of the war the Ministry was wound up and its “engagements” transferred to the new Central Office of Information, which maintained the previous division between home and overseas publicity. Overseas publicity was concerned with cultural, educational and trade operations. The overseas divisions included exhibitions, films and television, overseas press services, radio and reference. Divisional reports are in INF 8 ; publicity material issued by the COI is in INF 2 and INF 13 ; files of the Crown Film Unit are in INF 5 ; some personal files are in INF 21 ; staff lists are in INF 22 . See FO 953 for examples of Foreign Office publicity from 1947. The Control Commission for Germany played a role in education and propaganda: see FO 946 , FO 1050 and FO 1056 .

The Information Research Department was set up in 1946 under the Foreign Office to help counter Russian/Stalinist expansion, propaganda and infiltration, both in Britain and abroad, particularly amongst the western labour movement. Records of its work are in FO 1110 and reports are in FO 975 .

Records of the Information Policy Department including Information and Propaganda policy concerning the USSR and its satellite states, covering the years 1947-1966, are in FO 953.

CO 537 , Colonial Office Confidential General and Confidential Original Correspondence contains much material relating to ‘Communist’ and Anti-Communist propaganda in the post-War period, partly on a country-by-country basis but there are also documents relating to overall policy issues. CO 1027 contains the registered files of the Colonial Office Information Department, 1952-1967.

Other series between them contain a lot of useful supplementary material relating to information and propaganda in the colonies and ex-colonies:

  • CO 875 contains records of the Colonial Office Public Relations Department, later the Information Department, 1940-1952, relating to publicity and propaganda concerning the colonies
  • Registered files of the Colonial Office: Intelligence and Security Departments, covering the years 1954-1965 are in CO 1035 . These deal with matters relating to the security of British colonies and colonial intelligence matters
  • CO 1035/117 Proposal to use Information Research Department (IRD) material to counter Communist propaganda in colonies, 1956
  • There is further material on a country by country basis in the record series for individual countries.
  • Records of the Commonwealth Relations Office and Commonwealth Office’s Information Policy Department 1957-1966 are in DO 191
  • Registered files of the Commonwealth Relations Department, 1961-1966, are in DO 192
  • Registered files of the Commonwealth Relations Office and Commonwealth Office: News Department,1960-1967, are in DO 194
  • Records of the Foreign and Commonwealth Offices Information, News and Guidance Departments, 1967-1980, are in FCO 26

Louise Atherton, ‘Never complain, never explain’: Records of the Foreign Office and State Paper Office 1500-c.1960, PRO Reader’s Guide No 7 (PRO Publications, 1994)

M Sanders and PM Taylor, British propaganda during the First World War (Macmillan,1982)

Balfour, Propaganda in war, 1939-1945 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978) 

IRD, origins and establishment, Information Research Department 1946-1948, History notes No 9, Historians in Libraries and Records Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (August 1995)

WJ West, Truth betrayed: Radio politics between the wars (Duckworth, 1987)

Garth S Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell, Propaganda and persuasion (Sage Publications, fourth edition, 2006)

James Chapman, The British at war: Cinema, state and propaganda, 1939-45 (Cinema and society) (IB Taurus New Edition, 2003)

Susan L Carruthers, The media at war: Communication and conflict in the twentieth century (Palgrave Macmillan, 1999)

Andrew Defty, Britain, America and anti-Communist propaganda, 1945-1953: Propaganda 1945-1958 (Cass Series – Studies in Intelligence) (Routledge, first edition, 2004)

Philip M Taylor, British propaganda in the twentieth century: Selling democracy (Edinburgh University Press, 1999)

Philip M Taylor, Munitions of the mind: A history of propaganda from the ancient world to the present day (Manchester University Press, third edition, 2003)

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World War One

During World War One, propaganda was employed on a global scale. Unlike previous wars, this was the first total war in which whole nations and not just professional armies were locked in mortal combat. This and subsequent modern wars required propaganda to mobilise hatred against the enemy; to convince the population of the justness of the cause; to enlist the active support and cooperation of neutral countries; and to strengthen the support of allies.

Cartoon showing Union Jack flag protected by 6 bulldogs representing the British empire.

Article by: David Welch

Postage stamp sheet.

Article by: Jo Fox

Photograph of pilots sat in the cockpit of a plane

Article by: Ian Cooke

A banner created from an advert published in a Australian journal. A series of illustrated headshots sit above the headline of 'clean fighters'.

Article by: David Clampin

Crop of front cover for book titled Woman of the Empire in Wartime, with an illustration of the figure of Britannia, holding a trident spear and wearing armour

Article by: Jean Petrovic

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British wartime propaganda: How the Ministry of Information used images and censorship

The historian david welch has been rifling through archives to learn more about how britain convinced its own people, and […].

Maneater poster, from The British Library

The historian David Welch has been rifling through archives to learn more about how Britain convinced its own people, and those around of the Empire, that the Second World War was worth fighting using propaganda and censorship

When the Second World War started, the Government decided not to take over the media or suppress editorial freedom, but rather to allow debate and interpretation. However, it would control the flow of information to the media.

It also realised the importance of issuing “national propaganda” to maintain morale at home and influence opinion abroad. Such propaganda was disseminated by the Ministry of Information through a variety of media: films were produced, radio broadcasts were organised, exhibitions were curated, and a vast number of posters was issued.

Parts of this work will be familiar. However the MoI’s role as a major publisher is perhaps less well known. Books, illustrated magazines, pamphlets, and postcards had assumed an important place in the MoI’s pre-war planning.

Suffering and sacrifices

The scale of suffering and sacrifices that civilians were likely to experience persuaded the Government in 1939 that, although the war that Britain had declared against Nazism was widely acknowledged as being inevitable, it would still require explanation.

In order to justify Britain’s second declaration of war against Germany in 25 years, it had been agreed that a publication entitled Why Britain is at War should be one of its first examples of “official” British propaganda.

One pamphlet was simply entitled The Outbreak of War and consisted of reproductions of speeches and radio broadcasts made by leading politicians and a “message to his people” from King George VI.

Hitler in his own words

Another pamphlet in the series sets out, through a series of diplomatic documents released by the Foreign Office, to condemn Hitler in his own words.

It attempts to show how Nazi Germany reneged on its Pact with Poland, and the final chapter, written by Sir Nevile Henderson (the British ambassador to Germany), is on Hitler and Hitlerism. It demonstrates that, in Henderson’s words, Hitler “has made this war” and should bear full responsibility.

Front cover, 'How Hitler Made the War' provided by The British Library

As it was an official document it contained no photographs or comments, but allowed the documents to speak for themselves. However, the pamphlet, which was eventually published as How Hitler Made the War , was nearly abandoned in October 1939, and WH Smith Ltd warned that “nobody would want to buy it” because of the lack of illustrations.

When Sir John Reith, the former director general of the BBC, was appointed Minister of Information in 1940, he laid down two of the ministry’s fundamental axioms for the balance of the war: that news equated to the “shock troops of propaganda”, and that propaganda was more effective when it told “the truth, nothing but the truth and, as near as possible, the whole truth”.

British Empire state of mind In October 1940, the Ministry of Information decided to inaugurate a new initiative to inspire the British people: its Empire Crusade. Amounting to a form of “re-education”, this would reinforce the conviction in the moral superiority of Britain’s way of ordering the world. The campaign was dubbed “exhortation propaganda” within the ministry, and was swiftly abandoned. But propaganda directed to and about the British Empire proliferated. Although Britain claimed she was alone after the fall of France, the reality was that the British Empire remained staunch allies, providing troops, food, and equipment. Recognising this, the ministry set about detailing to the British public the vital contribution made by these countries to the common cause. The ministry also wished to demonstrate what Britain was doing for its colonial partners. To this end, a series of pamphlets entitled Victory is Vital concentrated on different aspects of fascist oppression. These were very simple documents aimed at a basic level of literacy, and there is unquestionably a patronising element to them. One example of a pamphlet shows semi-naked Africans being marched away from their homes in chains by Germans. An illustration inside reveals Africans trading happily in a store – “Under Britain you can buy what you like”. The contrasting picture is of an emaciated, naked peasant begging for food: “Under Germany you would starve and be made slaves.” Propaganda for the Empire, provided by The British Library In the Middle East, several densely illustrated children’s storybooks were published, aimed at different target audiences in the Middle East and in Muslim countries in North Africa. They were designed by W Lindsay Cable, who illustrated Enid Blyton’s books in 1940 and 1942 as well as working for the MoI. Hussein & Johnny was translated into Farsi, intended for an Iranian audience. Hussein is brought to England and enjoys aspects of British life, including playing football for his school team and riding on steam locomotives with his friend Johnny, with whose family he is living. The books were intended to show how enlightened and righteous Britain was and how the country had bravely fought against fascism, which was a threat to both nations. Ahmad & Johnny follows the same format, although here Ahmad is Sudanese and Johnny’s father previously lived in Sudan. It is written in Arabic. There are several attempts to link Sudan and Britain as friends and allies.

Belief in the BBC

The programmes of the BBC earned Britain a powerful reputation for credibility that proved an asset long after the war ended. George Orwell later observed: “The BBC as far as its news goes has gained enormous prestige since about 1940 … ‘I heard it on the radio’ is now almost equivalent to ‘I know it must be true.’”

As the embryonic MoI was being re-shaped to respond to the exigencies of the Second World War, books and pamphlets would ensure that “official” messages, such as why Britain was at war, had an enduring impact.

Unlike films, radio, exhibitions, and posters, such outputs were designed to last. Huge print-runs were required to satisfy demand, and a sensitive approach was designed to appeal to audiences of all ages and tastes – especially in material aimed at overseas audiences.

The ministry of censorship?

By April 1940, however, censorship had, frankly, been a farce. The censors were over-preoccupied with details and mechanical questions, while the press had become so contemptuous of them that editors frequently ignored their rulings, thus threatening the collapse of the “voluntary” system and its replacement with straightforward compulsory censorship.

The authorities gave the responsibility to the ministry, realising the need to integrate the control of news with the dissemination of positive propaganda.

The Downfall of the Dictators is Assured, provided by The British Library

These principles were implemented so successfully that the press, the BBC and other organs of “news” managed to maintain the trust of the British public at home and gained a reputation for Britain abroad for having even in wartime an honest, free, and truthful media, yet which gave practically nothing of significance away to an ever-vigilant enemy.

Good relations continued with the BBC, which maintained the spirit of “voluntary co-operation” established in wartime.

By 1941 the system was operating so effectively that most observers were unaware that a sophisticated form of pre-censorship was in force, even within the BBC. This explains why Britain’s wartime propaganda gained its reputation for telling the truth when, in fact, the whole truth could not be told.

Anti Nazi… and pro Potato Pete

Examples of the posters and publications that were used range from the crudeness of some of the specifically anti-Nazi and anti-Japanese publications, and the defiant and even cheeky humour in some of the material depicting events that turned the war in Britain’s favour, to the more light-hearted campaigns that discouraged citizens from gossiping – while at the same time encouraging them to savour the culinary delights and health-inducing qualities to be found by experimenting with versatile Potato Pete and Doctor Carrot.

Provided by The British Library - Persuading the People by David Welch

The sheer mass of publications is truly staggering, ranging from booklets demonstrating how well-known figures such as members of the Royal Family continued to demonstrate solidarity with their subjects to postcards showing inspirational figures such as Churchill, Monty, and “Bomber” Harris.

Different types of literature and visual propaganda showed women assisting in the war effort and how the colonies made their own substantial contribution in the fight against the Axis powers. They all played an important part in keeping the nation going.

Turning the page on propaganda

When the end of the war approached, the ministry resolutely attempted to distance itself from all calls for reform. But come March 1946, it was unceremoniously disbanded. Even its former minister, Duff Cooper, concluded that a centralised propaganda bureau had no place in a post-war democracy.

Writing in his memoirs, he noted, “I believe the truth of the matter to be that there is no place in the British scheme of government for a Ministry of Information.” Public information campaigns would remain, and state secrets would stay hidden, but the age of wartime propaganda and censorship was over.

This is an edited extract from ‘Persuading the People: British Propaganda in World War II’ by David Welch (British Library, £25). The author will be giving a talk at the library on Thursday ( )

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19 Incredible British Propaganda Posters From World War Two

Within the last few years, the World War II British propaganda poster "Keep calm and carry on" has become ubiquitous around the World.

What many people don't know is that the poster only saw limited distribution during World War II — the 2.5 million copies printed were held back and intended for us only in times of crisis, which (thankfully) never came .

However, the British government produced a whole range of other posters, many of which did see the light of day.

Recently the UK's National Archives has decided to release over World War II 2,000 art works on Wikimedia . We've had a look through the 330 or so artworks that have been uploaded so far, and included some of our favorite examples of posters we found — some of which made it to print and some which didn't. Inside are orders to keep quiet, stop waste and work hard.

"In Germany..."

propaganda posters bbc

"We beat 'em before. We'll do it again!"

propaganda posters bbc

"Mr. Hitler wants to know!"

propaganda posters bbc

"Don't waste oil"

propaganda posters bbc

"To Victory! Together!"

propaganda posters bbc

"We're up against it!"

propaganda posters bbc

"We want your kitchen waste"

propaganda posters bbc

"Unless we can divide those two fellows — we're sunk!"

propaganda posters bbc

"Together we shall strangle Hitlerism"

propaganda posters bbc


propaganda posters bbc

"Zipp it"

propaganda posters bbc

"Britain and America have two million tons more shipping today than in August 1942."

propaganda posters bbc

"Stand firm!"

propaganda posters bbc

"It's a full time job to win"

propaganda posters bbc

"Be careful what you say"

propaganda posters bbc

"Bones help to make planes"

propaganda posters bbc

"Don't waste here - the fuel you save at home!"

propaganda posters bbc

"Dig for victory"

propaganda posters bbc

"Be like dad - Keep mum!"

propaganda posters bbc

More from World War II...

propaganda posters bbc

Check Out These Amazing Aerial Photos Of A Completely Devastated Post War Berlin >

propaganda posters bbc

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Text: History of American Propaganda Posters

History of american propaganda posters: american social issues through propaganda.

Leaders throughout history have been able to use propaganda to their own needs and desires. By stirring an individual’s imagination and emotions whether it is for better or worse, figures in power who create campaigns of propaganda imagery can drive a population towards their end wants. Propaganda became a common term around America during World War I when posters and films were leveraged against enemies to rally troop enlistment and garner the public opinion. Propaganda became a modern political tool engendering good will across wide demographics and gaining favor of the country.

The following infographic takes a closer look at American Social Issues expressed through Propaganda imagery.

history of propaganda infographic image

What is Propaganda?

Propaganda can be described as thoughts, ideas, allegations or facts, spread deliberately to further one’s own cause or with the intention of causing damage to an opposing cause. Propaganda is commonly understood to involve any medium that strikes an illicit emotional reaction to one’s thoughts or views. It is a form of biased communication that is expressed through forms of art that do not always depict one set of thoughts in a clear way. A way to clearly stir the emotions of a populace and drive a one-sided opinion, propaganda has been a tool for the powerful to convince and push the less powerful towards a purpose.

The History of Propaganda

Although the term propaganda became common place in the United States during period of World War I, the concept has been used long since then. Some of the first to use propaganda for their own accords were the Greeks. Though the Greeks did not use propaganda as we know it now in print or movie depictions, they still used art to project their thoughts onto groups. Greeks could influence large groups of citizens and country men to their ways of thought through games, theater, assemblies, courts, and religious festivals.

After the invention of the printing press, leaders could now spread their ideas to the masses much more quickly. Philip II of Spain and Queen Elizabeth of England both used printed and written materials to organize their subjects during the Spanish Armada in the 16th century. To convince each individual nation that the other was at the aggressor, the leaders each participated in their own propaganda campaigns to distribute widespread dissent.

Newspapers during the Mexican American War sometimes took it upon themselves to influence articles and create articles that called for annexation of all Mexico by the United States. In some populations areas that were still controlled by Mexico, some U.S. writers would write or edit papers with the purpose of convincing the residents that the U.S. terms for peace should be accepted and that it was their best choice.

American Social and Political Issues Depicted Through Propaganda

America has been using propaganda in art for over a hundred years to drive the population towards a common thought. Often the premise dispensed by the government is centered toward an idea of Americanism or pride for the country over others. However, opposition for anyone in power had the same opportunity to use these same tactics through the wide distribution of newspapers and printing machines.

The Pyramid of the Capitalist System Created in 1911, The Pyramid of the Capitalist System, this cartoon directly criticized the worst parts of capitalism. As an American cartoon published, distributed and seen by many of those who were not on the top of the hierarchical capitalistic food chain, it brought to light a social issue that many were afraid to express before.

Liberty Loan Drive Promoting the purchase of war bonds during World War I was very important for the U.S. to keep the war machine driving forward and funded. The Liberty bond driving needing a boast and public attention used an ad that inspired people to purchase bonds. The ad was successful in driving funding and raised more than $17 billion.

Help Keep Your School All-American While the United States has bene a mixing pot, the issue of racism has been difficult to address. The poster, Help Keep Your School All-American, featuring Superman, one of the most popular figures with school children at the time of the ad spoke to changing a prevalently racist outlook of America at the time.

Women in the War This poster meant to drive women into the armed service. By featuring a woman working directly with a wartime device, it helped to inspire a feeling of comfortability with women serving at home and abroad.

We Can Do It Nearly everyone is familiar with “Rosie the Riverter”, but probably not everyone is familiar with her as a propaganda peace to inspire the U.S. wartime workforce. The posters produced of her were pivotal in swinging public opinion that a woman could work in a factory and outside the house to drive the wartime machine production. From 1940 to 1945 the percentage of female U.S. workforce increased from 27 percent to 37 percent.

Daisy Girl Political campaign propaganda took a strong foothold during the middle of the 19th century. At a time when nearly everyone feared nuclear warfare, Lyndon B. Johnson played off this fear and created campaigns against his opposition’s controversial comments. Though the political ad, Daisy Girl, only aired once it was still instrumental in playing on the fears of the people to swing their opinion.

Go Tell Mama! I’m For Obama Even in present day terms, America is using propaganda to stir emotion and convince others of our thinking. Artist Ray Noland emphasized the idea of community in his Go Tell Mama! I’m For Obama, playing on the ideas and sentiments of a largely community organization that needed grassroots marketing to spread advertising.

Norwich University is an important part of American history. Established in 1819, Norwich is a nationally recognized institution of higher education, the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and the first private military college in the United States.

With Norwich University’s online  Master of Arts in History , you can enhance your awareness of differing historical viewpoints while developing and refining your research, writing, analysis and presentation skills. The program offers two tracks—American history and world history—allowing you to tailor your studies to your interests and goals.

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Propaganda Posters From All Over the World to Inspire Your Design

Guidelines for creating propaganda posters:.

Use bold, simple colors

Add frames and labels

Be geometric

Go big with text and messaging

Now onward, to inevitable poster design victory!

Using bold, simple colors

propaganda posters bbc

New York Public Library. USSR. (1917-1921.) Dym trub. Dykhan’e Sovetskoi Rossii. (Additional title: The Smoke of Chimneys is the Breath of Soviet Russia.)

Just Say No to Propaganda Posters!

… Hang on, that sounded a little propaganda-y. We’re a freethinking bunch here on Team PicMonkey, so we don’t advocate manipulating the minds of the masses with the power of your design. However, we do appreciate design in general, and propaganda posters are undeniably iconic examples. So what can we learn from them?

As it turns out, propaganda posters of the twentieth century can teach us a lot. Many were created by artists as part of government-run contests, and exemplify techniques and themes from art movements such as Modernism, Art Deco, and Constructivism. However, propaganda is unique in that it’s high on emotional appeal and intended to influence attitudes towards specific policies: the quintuple-shot espresso of government outreach, if you will.

Propaganda posters are famously direct, and their color palette is no exception. Many iconic propaganda posters were designed using as few as three colors, often black, white, and a warm shade like red.

propaganda posters bbc

I.M. Toidze. 1941. “The Motherland Calls.”

propaganda posters bbc

J. Howard Miller. 1942. “We Can Do It!”

Even posters that feature more colors, like Rosie the Riveter’s realistically shaded skin and hair, tend to focus on a few bold shades that grab the eye. In Rosie’s case, they’re the three primary colors, with a peppy si-se-puede yellow lighting the background.

Pro tip: Generate your own custom color palette based on propaganda posters and use it for any project you like. Simply choose a poster with colors that strike you, then follow our tutorial to create your palette.

Adding frames and labels

propaganda posters bbc

Wikimedia Commons. 1920. Russian First of May poster.

Elaborately framed pieces are a hallmark of Art Nouveau, an art style popular from 1890 to 1920, which is why you’ll see intricate frames and graphics pop up in the propaganda from the WWI and Bolshevik eras.

propaganda posters bbc

New York Public Library. USSR. (1917-1921.) Vpervye v istorii chelovechestva Oktiabr’skaia revoliutsiia osmelilas’ vlastno potrebovat’ ot vekovechnykh ugnetatelei trudiashchikhsia rasplaty za krov’ i slezy soten pokolenii rabov. […] My pobedim! (Additional title: For the first time in the history of mankind October Revolution took the liberty to demand from the ages long opressors of working people the payment for blood and tears of hundreds generations of the slaves. […] We will gain!)

We love these garnishes: not only are they beautifying, but they can be a great way to organize information. Spotlight your revolutionary tagline by putting it on a pedestal (or over a semi-transparent box). Fancy up your pastoral proletariat scene with decorative corners. Put a frame on it!

propaganda posters bbc

James Montgomery Flagg. (c. 1917.) “Uncle Sam Wants You.”

If it’s good enough for Uncle Sam, it’s good enough for you. Check out how the flag-colored frame supports the patriotic message of the poster.

P.S., you know who has some sweeeeet corners, frames, and other decorative flourishes? Uh, yeah, that’s little old PicMonkey. Find them in the Frames tab, as well as in the Corners, Garnishes, and Labels graphic groups.

Being geometric

propaganda posters bbc

Koretskiy V. B., Gitsevich V. A. (1932.) “The Soviet trade unions-the vanguard of the world-wide workers’ movement.”

Let’s say you’re less about curlicues, and more about those straight-shooting geometric shapes. In that case, you’ll wanna skip on ahead in the history of art from nouveau to deco—and the famous Russian art form, Constructivism.

Just as Russian Communists envisioned a totally new way of ordering society, Russian Constructivist art envisioned new ways of creating shapes, inspired by emerging technology. What this meant for propaganda posters in the 1910s and ’20s was a focus on geometry and abstract shapes.

propaganda posters bbc

Aleksandr Rodchenko. (1925.) “Lengiz, Books in all Branches of Knowledge.”

Shapes, man!

propaganda posters bbc

Japan. 1931. “Kusunoki Masashige Festival.”

Meanwhile, if you’ve ever admired the radiating grandeur of a rising-sun-style graphic flourish, Art Deco says you’re welcome. Chevrons, sunbursts, and zig-zags are hallmarks of the Art Deco style, and can be seen in a number of twentieth-century propaganda posters—including this Japanese number portraying modern-day samurai.

If you like an artistic element on a specific poster, whether it’s a graphic or a style of portraying people, hit the search engines to figure out what artistic school it comes from. Chances are, other work in that style will have more inspiration for you.

Going big with your text

propaganda posters bbc

Z.P. Nikolaki. (1918.) “Hello! This is liberty speaking—billions of dollars are needed and needed now.”

Many propaganda posters of the twentieth century were used in the context of war: to build morale and coordinate action at home, or to persuade and undermine abroad. So they don’t pussyfoot around when it comes to message, there’s no time! Our people are out there!!! LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS, ARTHUR.

propaganda posters bbc

Roy Nockolds, The National Archives (UK). (1942.) “In Germany…someone is doing the same job as you. Beat him!”

propaganda posters bbc

Food Information Committee of the Government of Canada. “Save Food—Waste Nothing.”

What’s the lesson here for us? Experiment with big, bold text—in terms of both typography and message.

Don’t get us wrong: we love a delicately crafted, multi-metaphored turn of phrase as much as the next word jockey. Sometimes, though, simpler is more effective. That’s how we get “When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler” and “This man is your friend, he fights for freedom.”

propaganda posters bbc

United States Office of Facts and Figures. (1942.) “This man is your friend.”

So don’t hold back! Get right to the point, capitalize with abandon, and tug at some heartstrings. (Or guilt-strings, as with the famous British poster that asks, “Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?”)

Of course, propaganda is all about knowing your audience. The over-the-top phrasing on many of these old posters makes us giggle today, so either adjust your message accordingly, or lean hard into the comedy.

So there you have it! A few of the styles and techniques common to propaganda posters that can influence your own designs. Now get out there and take over the world!

… But like, not literally.

Elisa Chavez

Elisa Chavez is a content writer here at PicMonkey, where she hopes to change the world one dinosaur selfie at a time. She is also a nationally ranked slam poet, champion shopper, and doting dog mama.

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The 17 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Propaganda Posters

Jacopo della Quercia

Using a single drawing and a few sentences of text--the same raw material used to create Marmaduke --propaganda posters were supposed to influence the way people thought about their government and even their fellow man. As the below collection of posters demonstrates, no matter how unsuccessful the poster, propaganda is invaluable at teaching two timeless lessons: Your government thinks you're stupid, and when faced with unreasonable expectations, some people will lose their shit in hilarious ways.

17 The Korean War (China)


The Message:

"Long live the victory of the Korean People's Army and the Chinese People's Volunteers Army!"

The Problem:

First of all, those guys could not be using their guns more incorrectly.

But more importantly, who the fuck are we supposed to be rooting for in this picture? The wild-eyed robot giants? The sad little American cartoons? We don't care where you're from, the only discernible message you're getting from this poster is, "Don't take acid with the Chinese military."

16 Take a Bath (USSR)


Hey, we couldn't help but notice that disgusting layer of filth currently coating your entire body, how about hitting a bath house after work, you nasty goon?

Is that guy going to be at the bath house? Because if so, we're not fucking going. Scientific studies indicate that bathing in the same room as a zombie in blackface clutching a freshly removed human heart can, in some instances, lead to being attacked by a zombie in black face clutching the human heart he's just removed from your chest. We'd rather go to Watts covered in our racially insensitive layer of soot than go anywhere close to this guy, who is either the most racist thing ever drawn, or works in the tailpipe of a diesel truck.

15 Shame On You Chatterer! (Nazi Germany)

Sdam Did Sdhwaker! Feind Schweigen ist Pflicht! hort miy

Factory workers who can't keep secrets are hurting the Third Reich's war effort.

Is this supposed to be hilarious? Because it is. Damn adorable too. As far as the apparent irresponsible workforce problem, maybe don't hire such irrepressible water fowl to build your Nazi death drones. As Disney demonstrated, those adorable little bastards hate Nazis.

14 Save Up and Buy a Car! (USSR)


How awesome is the Soviet Union? So awesome that anyone can afford to buy a brand new car. If that was a lie, would this man be sitting in a brand new car?

Has anyone ever looked less capable of driving a car? Rather than paying even a little bit of attention to the road he appears to be plowing down the exact center of, our driver is turned around, shooting us the unmistakable leer of the shitfaced. Like Nabokov's Lolita , the poster gives us a doomed point of view--the back seat of a car driven by a man who shows no signs of turning around until you quit shouting about lakes and come sit on his lap.

13 Riding In a Car With Adolf Hitler (USA)

When ride ALONE you ride with Hitler! you Join a Car-Sharing Club TODAY!

If you don't carpool, you're a fascist dick.

If the ghost of chalk Hitler is so pleased by people driving alone, why does he look so terribly sad? Maybe because the stone cold pimp in the driver's seat just made him watch while his dick played hopscotch with the ghost of chalk Eva Braun. The exact opposite of Russia's self-loathing attempt at instilling driving pride, America tried to draw a cautionary tale, and ended up with a man whose only worry seems to be not getting his huge balls caught when he drops the top on his pimp ass Caddy.

If this were a smoking ad, you wouldn't be reading this right now because your dad would have died of lung cancer when he was 11.

12 Building a Better Tomorrow (USSR)


The Soviet Union is building a better tomorrow. And we've got the modest, one-bedroom apartments to prove it!

Look, we get that it's probably hard to convey emotions like pride when you've never seen anyone smile without the assistance of vodka. But the star of this poster doesn't seem to be saying, "Welcome to your new apartment!" so much as, "Oh God, they took everything!" Propaganda 101: Never use a bereaved man whose left eye appears to have been beaten halfway shut to make you feel good about the future.

11 Quiet! (USSR)


"Don't use the telephone! The enemy may be listening!"

Throw a suit and tie on the seated youngster and his creepily looming superior, and this could easily work as a warning against sexual harassment in 1970s American offices. The boss has apparently just ended the phone call, so the gesture he's making with his left hand is either wholly unnecessary, or a reference to what's about to go down between the young man's hand, and the old man boner currently jabbing him in the ribs.

10 Eating Sensibly (USSR)

A ELLLE roBopat. 4TO Mbl CBHB...

If you overeat, you're a capitalist pig.

Unless there's something we're missing, it looks like this guy just threw down on half a fish. How fucking hungry is Russia that half a fish sends you spiraling into a food coma? Either that, or he's passed out from the booze, and since when have Russians passed out from just one bottle of anything?

9 Wanted! (USA)

WANTED! FOR MURDER Her careless talk costs lives

Shut your dirty whore mouth, woman! If you spend your day blabbing about the war instead of making dinner and babies, the Communists win.

Of all the posters to use a real woman's photograph in, they chose the one that uses size 15 Brick Shit House font to accuse a woman of murder? What woman in her right mind would pose for this poster? You know how sometimes actors on America's Most Wanted are mistaken in public for the criminals they portray on the show? This poster is that minus the big television budget plus a society in which domestic violence was a spectator sport.

8 Horse Sense (USA)

MAY w horse sense it's plain act. think SAFETY

Safety. It's horse sense!

Fucking what? It seems like they're implying that safety is the USA Network censored version of "horse shit." According to, horse sense was once used to mean common sense. That goes a long way towards explaining the phrasing, but not their decision to depict the horse in question as the bastard love child of Dean Martin and a retarded horse.

7 Fieldwork Does Not Wait! (USSR)


Do your chores... and be happy about it!

Don't worry papa! I'll head out to the field. I just need to go to the window to check the temperatOH HOLY SHIT WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT!!!!! Kill it! Fucking kill it now!

6 Oh, Yeah? (USA)

Heute gehort Lns Deutschland Today, Germany is Ours; morgen die Welel ganze Tomorrow, the Whole World OH, YEAH?

To pull off the Herculean task of making Adolf Hitler look evil.

If you're going to turn the Nazis into a choir of fanged zombies, and reprint the lyrics of a song they wrote promising to take over the world, you might want to come with something a little stronger than "Oh, yeah?" It doesn't help that they've added an unnecessary comma after "Oh," making our response seem less hard-assed than surprised, and then after a moment of reflection, vaguely indifferent to the whole arrangement.

5 The Soviet Muscle Men (USSR)


Hey, Soviet kids! If you exercise and bathe regularly, maybe one day you can grow up to be proud Russian soldier!

Russian artists finally manage to conjure a Russian man who doesn't look like a down on his luck boxing trainer, and they do this? All pedophilia concerns aside, it looks like that kid is bracing for one devastating punch to the grill. But that's still better than what this kid probably just had to endure.

Ecu xoreus obumo 30006-3akassica!

Come on Russia. We've seen Rocky IV . You guys were like the least gay country in the world. Your men ate steel and shit ice picks...

PCCP Toe 2 a.K

...And were apparently totally fabulous when nobody was watching.

4 Keep Calm and Carry On (UK)

Those Nazis currently overtaking your country? Don't let them get to you.

This 1939 British poster commemorates the baffling period at the beginning of World War II, known as "the Phoney War" or "the Bore War," a hilarious play on the Boer War, but with the spelling changed to reference how the Allied Powers sat around scratching their balls for the first few months of World War II. Of course, it was less of a bore for Poland, and the other parts of Northern Europe that Hitler was invading at will during this period. Lots of action for those countries.

The 17 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Propaganda Posters

Anyways, as Hitler plotted to assassinate Winston Churchill and install the Nazi sympathizing Edward VIII as king, the British government planned the propaganda poster equivalent of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy." Cheerio then, old chap!

3 Don't Trust Capitalism! (USSR)


Fuck capitalism!

Was this really the big fear in the Soviet Union at the time? Americans showing up with eggs? Sure, trying to hide that bayonet in what we're assuming is a copy of The Constitution is shady, but it's not like they couldn't spot it. Besides, only the earliest drafts of The Constitution included a bayonet.

2 DEAR GOD, Keep Them Safe! (USA)

DEAR GOD, keep them safe! BUY WAR BONDS and STAMPS N ehee

Buy War Bonds, or the kids will fucking get it!

You know what kids really need to be protected from? The sadistic government employee who came up with this campaign. And not to burst your bubble, Sally, but that apple is going to be completely inedible if what you're preparing for actually comes to pass. You might as well just chuck it now.

1 The Feeling of the Sisters of the Two Coasts (China)

The 17 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Propaganda Posters

Hey, what's with all the hostility? There's no reason China and Taiwan can't be friends.

Problem? Who said there's a problem? This is the best damn thing we've ever seen.

Want to write articles like this for Cracked? Just go here and say you want in. No experience necessary, but you've got to be awesome.

For more head-scratching insanity from around the world, check out The 25 Most Baffling Toys From Around the World and The 35 Most Insane Halloween Costumes from Around the World .

And stop by our Top Picks (Updated Today! Shit!) to see propaganda drawn by Bucholz (with his own fecal matter).

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propaganda posters bbc


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    Anyways, as Hitler plotted to assassinate Winston Churchill and install the Nazi sympathizing Edward VIII as king, the British government planned the propaganda poster equivalent of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy." Cheerio then, old chap! 3 Don't Trust Capitalism! (USSR) Fuck capitalism!