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World War Propaganda Posters
Propaganda is the art of influence that seeks to manipulate an attitude of a group of people toward a cause or political position. By its nature, it not impartial and is usually biased. It is often selective with the facts or truths it presents, and will often appeal to fears or concerns of the group it is targeting. Over time, propaganda has acquired strongly negative connotations and can seem quite outdated by today’s standards. However, during both World Wars I and II, propaganda posters caught the eye and influenced the populace, with their striking artistic style still rippling through art to this day. We have taken a look at some prominent and interesting examples from both sides.
Uncle Sam (U.S.A)
“I Want You for U.S. Army”
The image of Uncle Sam (often viewed as the personification of the United States) from the World War I recruitment poster has become one of the U.S.A.’s most iconic images. James Montgomery Flagg, a prominent U.S. artist, designed 46 posters for the government, but his most famous was the “I Want You for U.S. Army”. Versions of the poster were then used again for World War II.
By James Montgomery Flagg
During both World Wars, posters were meant to instill people with a positive and patriotic outlook on the conflict. Posters were encouraging not just men to join the army, but every citizen of the United States to contribute to the war effort and do their part, whether at home or abroad. As we can see in the above example, red, white and blue are the colors which dominate the poster.
Treat ‘em Rough (U.S.A)
“Treat ‘em Rough” 1917
This poster, by artist August William Hutaf was created for the United States Tank Corps.
By Hutaf, August William
This Is How It Would Look in German Lands (Germany)
“So Säh es aus in Deutschen Landen” 1918
A contrast from the usual stark colors that are in a number of propaganda posters, the artist, Egon Tschirch, worked as a freelance painter in Rostock. His trips around southern France, Africa and Tunisia brought vivid color and luminosity to his work. Tschirch was also a soldier in World War I.
By Egon Tschirch
The colors in the poster stuck with red and black, which were used in a great deal of Germany’s propaganda work, as well as the gothic script. In the poster we can see two French howitzers that are firing on a city on the banks of the Rhine, where great plumes of smoke rise from the industrial areas.
Lord Kitchener (Britain)
“Your Country Needs You” 1914
Perhaps one of the most famous recruitment posters of World War I showing Lord Kitchener. The poster depicts Lord Kitchener, who was the British Secretary of State for War, wearing the cap of a British Field Marshal and calling on the viewer to join the British Army to fight against the Central Powers. The poster would go on to influence the United States and the Soviet Union.
By Alfred Leete
Before the institution of conscription in 1916, the United Kingdom has relied on upon volunteers for the army. However, with the outbreak of World War I, recruiting posters had not really been used since the Napoleonic War. The fact that Kitchener was an actively serving military officer leant credibility to the poster. Le Bas of Caxton Advertising chose Kitchener for the advertisement, saying Kitchener was “the only soldier with a great war name, won in the field, within the memory of the thousands of men the country wanted.”
“Motherland Calls” 1941
This was, perhaps, the first and most famous Soviet poster of World War II. The image itself depicts “Mother Russia” in red, the color most strongly linked to Soviet Russia. In her hand she is holding a piece of paper which on it is the Red Army oath.
By Irakli Toidze
The poster was created in July 1941 by Irakli Toidze, a famous socialist realism artist, during the first days of the Great Patriotic War. Over time, it has become one of the most reconcilable pieces of Soviet art, and stands as a symbol of Russian liberation. The Motherland Calls also influenced Russia’s largest statue, also dubbed “The Motherland Calls” (The Mamayev Monument), which stands in Volgograd (former Stalingrad).
“With the cooperation of Japan, China, and Manchukuo the world can be in peace” 1935
Japanese propaganda tended to rely on pre-war elements of statism in Shōwa Japan. Later, new forms of propaganda were introduced during World War II to persuade occupied countries of the benefits of Japanese rule. These attempted to undermine American troops’ morale, counteract claims of Japanese atrocities, and make it appear as though the Japanese were victorious.
By Manchukuo State Council of Emperor Kang-de Puyi
The poster above is of “Manchuko”; its purpose is to promote harmony between Japanese, Chinese, and Manchu peoples. Its caption reads: “With the help of Japan, China, and Manchukuo, the world can be in peace.” The flags shown are, left to right: the flag of Manchukuo; the flag of Japan; the “Five Races Under One Union” flag.
The More We Fight, the Stronger We Are (China)
“The More We Fight the Stronger We Are. The More Enemies [we] Fight the Weaker They Get” 1940
Earlier Chinese propaganda posters are largely associated with the image of Mao Zedong, as well as the rising sun over a sea of red flags. Even before this, during the long march (1934–1935), graphic sheets were produced and distributed to the local people to support and propagate the Communist ideology. They were originally simply designed in black and white, being distributed between the local populace.
The above poster uses red once again, and served to garner support for the Chinese to overthrow the Japanese troops that had occupied their land. After the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, propaganda posters became even more popular method for spreading the message about the Communist party.
Drive Them Out (Italy)
The Fascist regime used propaganda heavily to influence its citizens. This included pageantry and rhetoric, its purpose being to inspire the nation to unite and obey. In the beginning, propaganda was under the control of the press office, until a Ministry of Popular Culture was created in 1937. Two years before, a special propaganda ministry was created, whose purpose it was to espouse fascism, refute enemy lies, and clear up ambiguity.
By Ugo Finozzi
Posters were a powerful propaganda tool, and many were designed by some of Italy’s leading graphic artists. The above poster shows a mother clinging to her child as a soldier, holding a dagger, rushes forward toward flames with the text “Drive them out!”. It was created by Ugo Finozzi.
Powers of Persuasion
"I Want You"
by James Montgomery Flagg, 1940. National Archives, Army Recruiting Bureau
View in National Archives Catalog
Guns, tanks, and bombs were the principal weapons of World War II, but there were other, more subtle forms of warfare as well. Words, posters, and films waged a constant battle for the hearts and minds of the American citizenry just as surely as military weapons engaged the enemy. Persuading the American public became a wartime industry, almost as important as the manufacturing of bullets and planes. The Government launched an aggressive propaganda campaign with clearly articulated goals and strategies to galvanize public support, and it recruited some of the nation's foremost intellectuals, artists, and filmmakers to wage the war on that front. Posters are the focus of this online exhibit, based on a more extensive exhibit that was presented in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, from May 1994 to February 1995. It explores the strategies of persuasion as evidenced in the form and content of World War II posters. Quotes from official manuals and public leaders articulate how the Government sought to rally public opinion in support of the war's aims; quotes from popular songs and sayings attest to the success of the campaign that helped to sustain the war effort throughout the world-shaking events of World War II.
Jump to Part 1 Galleries:
Man the Guns!
It's a Women's War Too!
United We Win
Use it up, wear it out, four freedoms.
Jump to Part 2 Galleries:
This is Nazi Brutality
He's watching you, meaning of sacrifice, stamp 'em out, part 1: patriotic pride.
View the Man the Guns! Gallery
Man the Guns—Join the Navy, by McClelland Barclay, 1942, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Keep 'em fighting. Production wins wars. Stop accidents, Printed for the National Safety Council, Inc., Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Get hot—keep moving. Don't waste a precious minute., Records of War Production Board View in Online Gallery
Masculine strength was a common visual theme in patriotic posters. Pictures of powerful men and mighty machines illustrated America's ability to channel its formidable strength into the war effort. American muscle was presented in a proud display of national confidence.
Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative, Latch on to the Affirmative, Don't Mess with Mr. In-Between. 1945, Music by Harold Arlen, Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
It's a Woman's War Too!
View the It's a Woman's War Too! Gallery
Victory Waits On Your Fingers—Keep 'Em Flying Miss U.S.A., Produced by the Royal Typewriter Company for the U.S. Civil Service Commission, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Longing Won't Bring Him Back Sooner...Get a War Job!, by Lawrence Wilbur, 1944, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
We Can Do It!, by J. Howard Miller, Produced by Westinghouse for the War Production Co-Ordinating Committee, Records of the War Production Board View in Online Catalog
Of all the images of working women during World War II, the image of women in factories predominates. Rosie the Riveter—the strong, competent woman dressed in overalls and bandanna—was introduced as a symbol of patriotic womanhood. The accoutrements of war work—uniforms, tools, and lunch pails—were incorporated into the revised image of the feminine ideal.
In the face of acute wartime labor shortages, women were needed in the defense industries, the civilian service, and even the Armed Forces. Despite the continuing 20th century trend of women entering the workforce, publicity campaigns were aimed at those women who had never before held jobs. Poster and film images glorified and glamorized the roles of working women and suggested that a woman's femininity need not be sacrificed. Whether fulfilling their duty in the home, factory, office, or military, women were portrayed as attractive, confident, and resolved to do their part to win the war.
These jobs will have to be glorified as a patriotic war service if American women are to be persuaded to take them and stick to them. Their importance to a nation engaged in total war must be convincingly presented. Basic Program Plan for Womanpower Office of War Information
View the United We Win Gallery
United We Win, Photograph by Alexander Liberman, 1943, Printed by the Government, Printing Office for the War Manpower Commission, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Above and Beyondthe Call of Duty, by David Stone Martin, Printed by the Government, Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office of War Information View in Online Catalog
At the beginning of the war, African Americans could join the Navy but could serve only as messmen. Doris ("Dorie") Miller joined the Navy and was in service on board the USS West Virginia during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Restricted to the position of messman, he received no gunnery training. But during the attack, at great personal risk, he manned the weapon of a fallen gunman and succeeded in hitting Japanese planes. He was awarded the Navy Cross, but only after persistent pressure from the black press.
Pvt. Joe Louis Says—We,re Going to do our part . . . and we'll win because we're on God's side, Records of the Office Government Reports View in Online Catalog
During World War II, racial restriction and segregation were facts of life in the U.S. military. Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of African Americans participated wholeheartedly in the fight against the Axis powers. They did so, however, with an eye toward ending racial discrimination in American society. This objective was expressed in the call, initiated in the black press for the "Double V"—victory over fascism abroad and over racism at home. The Government was well aware of the demoralizing effects of racial prejudice on the American population and its impact on the war effort. Consequently, it promoted posters, pamphlets, and films highlighting the participation and achievement of African Americans in military and civilian life.
We say glibly that in the United States of America all men are free and equal, but do we treat them as if they were? . . . There is religious and racial prejudice everywhere in the land, and if there is a greater obstacle anywhere to the attainment of the teamwork we must have, no one knows what it is. Arthur Upham Pope, Chairman of the Committee for National Morale, in America Organizes to Win the War
View the Use It Up, Wear It Out Gallery
When You Ride Alone You ride with Hilter!, by Weimer Pursell, 1943, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Save Waste Fats for Explosives, by Henry Koerner, 1943, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Waste Helps the Enemy, by Vanderlaan, Records of the War Production Board View in Online Catalog
During the war years, gasoline, rubber, sugar, butter, and meat were rationed. Government publicity reminded people that shortages of these materials occurred because they were going to the troops, and that civilians should take part in conservation and salvage campaigns.
Astronomical quantities of everything and to hell with civilian needs. Donald Nelson, Chairman of the War Production Board, describing the military view of the American wartime industry.
View the Four Freedoms Gallery
Ours...to fight for—Freedom From Want, by Norman Rockwell, ©1943 SEPS: The Curtis Publishing Co., Agent
Printed by the Government Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Save Freedom of Speech, by Norman Rockwell, ©1943 SEPS: The Curtis Publishing Co., Agent, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Save Freedom of Worship, by Norman Rockwell, ©1943 SEPS: The Curtis Publishing Co., Agent, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Ours...to fight for—Freedom From Fear, by Norman Rockwell, ©1943 SEPS: The Curtis Publishing Co., Agent, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
President Roosevelt was a gifted communicator. On January 6, 1941, he addressed Congress, delivering the historic "Four Freedoms" speech. At a time when Western Europe lay under Nazi domination, Roosevelt presented a vision in which the American ideals of individual liberties were extended throughout the world. Alerting Congress and the nation to the necessity of war, Roosevelt articulated the ideological aims of the conflict. Eloquently, he appealed to Americans' most profound beliefs about freedom. The speech so inspired illustrator Norman Rockwell that he created a series of paintings on the "Four Freedoms" theme. In the series, he translated abstract concepts of freedom into four scenes of everyday American life. Although the Government initially rejected Rockwell's offer to create paintings on the "Four Freedoms" theme, the images were publicly circulated when The Saturday Evening Post, one of the nation's most popular magazines, commissioned and reproduced the paintings. After winning public approval, the paintings served as the centerpiece of a massive U.S. war bond drive and were put into service to help explain the war's aims.
We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want . . . everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear . . . anywhere in the world. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Message to Congress, January 6, 1941
Part 2: Staying Vigilant
View the Warning! Gallery
WARNING! Our Homes Are in Danger Now!, produced by the General Motors Corporation, 1942, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Keep These Hands Off!, by G. K. Odell, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
A study of commercial posters undertaken by the U.S. Government found that images of women and children in danger were effective emotional devices. The Canadian poster at right was part of the study and served as a model for American posters, such as the one below, that adopted a similar visual theme.
Don't Let That Shadow Touch Them. Buy War Bonds., by Lawrence B. Smith, 1942, Produced for the Government Printing Office for the U.S. Treasury, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
We're Fighting to Prevent This, by C. R. Miller, Think America Institute, Kelly Read & Co., Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Public relations specialists advised the U.S. Government that the most effective war posters were the ones that appealed to the emotions. The posters shown here played on the public's fear of the enemy. The images depict Americans in imminent danger-their backs against the wall, living in the shadow of Axis domination.
Commercial advertising usually takes the positive note in normal times . . . But these are not normal times; this is not even a normal war; it's hell's ideal of human catastrophy [sic], so menace and fear motives are a definite part of publicity programs, including the visual. Statement on Current Information Objective Office of Facts and Figures
View the This is Nazi Brutality Gallery
This is Nazi Brutality, by Ben Shahn, 1942, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Lidice was a Czech mining village that was obliterated by the Nazis in retaliation for the 1942 shooting of a Nazi official by two Czechs. All men of the village were killed in a 10-hour massacre; the women and children were sent to concentration camps. The destruction of Lidice became a symbol for the brutality of Nazi occupation during World War II.
We French Workers Warn You...Defeat Means Slavery, Starvation and Death., By Ben Shahn, 1942, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the War Information Board, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
The Sowers, by Thomas Hart Benton, 1942, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Artist Thomas Hart Benton believed that it was the artist's role either to fight or to "bring the bloody actual realities of this war home to the American people." In a series of eight paintings, Benton portrayed the violence and barbarity of fascism. "The Sowers" shows the enemy as bulky, brutish monsters tossing human skulls onto the ground.
Many of the fear-inspiring posters depicted Nazi acts of atrocity. Although brutality is always part of war, the atrocities of World War II were so terrible, and of such magnitude, as to engender a new category of crime—crimes against humanity. The images here were composed to foster fear. Implicit in these posters is the idea that what happened there could happen here.
Under their system, the individual is a cog in a military machine, a cipher in an economic despotism; the individual is a slave. These facts are documented in the degradation and suffering of the conquered countries, whose fate is shared equally by the willing satellites and the misguided appeasers of the Axis. Government Information Manual for the Motion Picture Industry Office of War Information
View the He's Watching You Gallery
He's Watching You, by Glenn Grohe, ca. 1942, Gouache on cardboard, Records of the Office of War Information View in Online Catalog
Someone Talked!, by Siebel, 1942, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office of War Information View in Online Catalog
...Because Somebody Talked!, By Wesley, 1943, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the Office of War Information, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Wanted! For Murder, by Victor Keppler, 1944, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
A woman—someone who could resemble the viewer`s neighbor, sister, wife, or daughter—was shown on a "wanted" poster as an unwitting murderess.
At least one viewer voiced objection to the choice of a female model. A letter from a resident of Hawaii to the Office of War Information reads, in part, "American women who are knitting, rolling bandages, working long hours at war jobs and then carrying on with 'women's work' at home—in short, taking over the countless drab duties to which no salary and no glory are attached, resent these unwarranted and presumptuous accusations which have no basis in fact, but from the time-worn gags of newspaper funny men."
Concerns about national security intensify in wartime. During World War II, the Government alerted citizens to the presence of enemy spies and saboteurs lurking just below the surface of American society. "Careless talk" posters warned people that small snippets of information regarding troop movements or other logistical details would be useful to the enemy. Well-meaning citizens could easily compromise national security and soldiers' safety with careless talk.
Words are ammunition. Each word an American utters either helps or hurts the war effort. He must stop rumors. He must challenge the cynic and the appeaser. He must not speak recklessly. He must remember that the enemy is listening. Government Information Manual for the Motion Picture Industry Office of War Information
View the Meaning of Sacrifice Gallery
You Talk of Sacrifice..., Produced by Winchester, Records of the War Production Board View in Online Catalog
Have You Really Tried to Save Gas by Getting Into a Car Club?, By Harold Von Schmidt, 1944, Printed by the Government Printing Office, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
Miles of Hell to Tokyo!, By Amos Sewell, 1945, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the War Manpower Commission, Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
To guard against complacency, the Government promoted messages that reminded civilian America of the suffering and sacrifices that were being made by its Armed Forces overseas.
The mortal realities of war must be impressed vividly on every citizen. There is a lighter side to the war picture, particularly among Americans, who are irrepressibly cheerful and optimistic. But war means death. It means suffering and sorrow. The men in the service are given no illusions as to the grimness of the business in which they are engaged. We owe it to them to rid ourselves of any false notions we may have about the nature of war. Government Information Manual for the Motion Picture Industry Office of War Information
View the Stamp 'Em Out! Gallery
Stamp `Em Out!, Produced by RCA Manufacturing Company, Inc., Records of the Office of Government Reports View in Online Catalog
More Production, by Zudor, Printed by the Government Printing Office for the War Production Board, Records of the Office of War Information View in Online Catalog
The Government tried to identify the most effective poster style. One government-commissioned study concluded that the best posters were those that made a direct, emotional appeal and presented realistic pictures in photographic detail. The study found that symbolic or humorous posters attracted less attention, made a less favorable impression, and did not inspire enthusiasm. Nevertheless, many symbolic and humorous posters were judged to be outstanding in national poster competitions during the war.
War posters that are symbolic do not attract a great deal of attention, and they fail to arouse enthusiasm. Often, they are misunderstood by those who see them. How to Make Posters That Will Help Win The War, Office of Facts and Figures, 1942
Song: "Any Bonds Today?"
"any bonds today bonds of freedom that's what i'm selling any bonds today scrape up the most you can here comes the freedom man asking you to buy a share of freedom today, any stamps today we'll be blest if we all invest in the u.s.a. here comes the freedom man can't make tomorrow's plan not unless you buy a share of freedom today".
Speech: President Roosevelt's Address
Transcript: Excerpt from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Message to Congress on January 6, 1941
"the first is the freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. the second is the freedom of every person to worship god in his own way—everywhere in the world. the third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world. the fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world." (applause).
Video: Bugs Bunny
Video Description: Bugs Bunny enters stage right in front of a backdrop of Archibald McNeal Willard's painting, "Spirit of '76" showing three colonial soldiers with a fife, drum, and flag. Bugs wears a patriotic red and white striped top hat with a band of blue and white stars that he waves and tosses off stage left. Bugs sings "Any Bonds Today?", dances and throws blue papers printed with "Bonds" toward the audience. Elmer Fudd and Porky Pig, in Army and Navy uniforms, join Bugs onstage. The trio dances and sings in front of a backdrop showing a combat scene with ships and planes. As the song ends with a musical flourish, the cartoon fades to a gold background with a Minute Man on the left and the slogan "For Defense Buy United States Savings Bonds and Stamps."
Posters Worth A Thousand Words
World war ii political posters from the collections of the smithsonian national museum of american history, in collaboration with, the role of a poster, posters were a key way to spread information during the war, the posters that spread awareness, teaching the british public about aviation, the posters that educated civilians, decoding the many symbols of military insignia, the posters to recruit women, encouraging women to join the reserves and fight for the country, explore the poster collections by color, joining the fight, propaganda posters encouraged citizens to enlist in the military, "we're coming" / join the a.i.f. now, the new anzacs pause before action in the middle east / join the aif now, man the guns join the navy, united states. navy, en sus puestos, come on, pal ... enlist, on to victory / air crews wanted r.a.a.f. - urgently, helping on the homefront, from victory gardens to calling for productivity, why not use me more says 'potato pete', ministry of food, killing time is killing men., brown, reynold, keep the wheels turning / repair work is vital to the war effort, "bundles for berlin" / more production, united states. war production board., dig for victory, home grown food means more ships for the war effort, he's a fighting fool / give him the best you've got / more production, it's your production / against his, put your muscle on a war basis sign up for a farm job at your local u.s. employment office, u.s. employment office, buy war bonds, funding the war through the power of the purse, lend a hand bonds buy bombs, abbott laboratories, bonds build ships buy more bonds, carry on buy war bonds, world war ii poster, 85 million americans hold war bonds. treasury department., united states. war finance division, let 'em have it buy extra bonds. treasury department., back the attack / buy war bonds 3rd war loan, care is costly buy and hold war bonds. treasury department., attack attack attack / buy war bonds. treasury department., united states. department of the treasury, carry your share / buy war bonds, the poster art of norman rockwell, an iconic artist's contributions, ours to fight for freedom from want, office of war information. (washington, d.c.), save freedom of worship each according to the dictates of his own conscience buy war bonds, save freedom of speech / buy war bonds, ours to fight for freedom from fear, loose lips sink ships, countries around the world reminded citizens that carless talk costs lives, the enemy has long ears, hold your tongue, qui a trop parlé, se taire, c'est servir, a careless word..., women winning the war, the posters entreating women to enlist, wish i could join too serve your country in the waves ..., that was the day i joined the waves ..., bring him home sooner / join the waves, you are needed now / join the army nurse corps / apply at your red cross recruiting station. u.s, green, ruzzie (artist), "we can do it", miller, j. howard, don't miss your great opportunity / the navy needs you in the waves, on the same team / enlist in the waves.., make nursing your war job--it's war work with a future, there's a man-size job for you in your navy / enlist in the waves ... u.s. navy., falter, john, my needle hums along the track for hitler's ears i'm pinning back ..., back them up, building a strong base of support, a raid by "hudsons" of the coastal command on german shipping at aalesund, norway, in which eleven ships were hit back them up, british field-guns smash a german tank attack at point-blank range in libya back them up, british army, back them up, a british "commando" raid on a german-help port in norway back them up, a british tank attack in the western desert back them up, a british cruiser ramming on italian submarine in the mediterranean back them up, the bombing in daylight of the power station at knapsack, germany, by the royal air force. back them up, the inner workings of airplanes, educating everyone on the aerial technology, britain's "spitfire v" ..., [in arabic or persian], il gigantesco bombardiere britannico "stirling" ..., le "halifax ii" de handley page ..., de lange afstand bristol "beaufighter" ..., "lancaster" - o avião pesado de bombardeamento britânico, one picture, many languages, how a poster changes as it spreads around the world, de stemmen der vrijheid leven ..., de stem der vrijheid leeft ..., h φωnh thσ eλeyθepiaσ zh ..., glas slobode živi novine saveznika štampane u velikoj britaniji, hlasy svobody žijí spojenecký tisk ve velké britanii, det frie ord lever de allierte aviser i england, dive into even more posters and printed culture, from the smithsonian national museum of american history.
Propaganda is a form of communication that promotes a particular perspective or agenda by using text and images to provoke an emotional response and influence behaviour.
Can you think of some modern examples of propaganda?
1. During the First World War, propaganda was used around the world for fundraising, to build hatred of the enemy, and to encourage enlistment. Posters were an ideal method of communicating this propaganda, as they could be printed and distributed quickly in large quantities.
Here are two examples of Australian propaganda posters, which aimed to encourage enlistment by promoting a sense of comradery and duty:
Accession Number: ARTV05616
Sportsmens’ Recruiting Committee, Troedel and Cooper Pty. Ltd, Enlist in the Sportsmens’ 1000 , 1917, chromolithograph on paper, 98.7 x 73.2 cm
Accession Number: ARTV00141
David Souter, Win the War League, William Brooks and Co. Ltd, It is nice in the surf, but what about the men in the trenches? , 1915, lithograph printed in colour on paper, 76.2 x 51.4 cm
a. What messages are the posters presenting?
b. Who are those posters targeting? Who are they not targeting, and why?
c.What do these posters tell us about how the typical Australian man was percieved during the early 1900s?
d. Do you think these posters would have influenced people like Augusta Enberg , the Christensen family , or Peter Rados ? Why or why not?
2. The following propaganda posters also encouraged enlistment, but did this by building fear of the enemy.
Accession Number: ARTV00078
Norman Lindsay, Commonwealth Government of Australia Syd. Day, The Printer Ltd, ?, 1918, chromolithograph on paper, 99 x 74.4 cm
Accession Number: ARTV06030
B.E. Pike, VAP Service, Must it come to this? , 1914 – 1918, chromolithograph on paper, 57.7 x 46 cm
Accession Number: ARTV00079
Norman Lindsay, Commonwealth Government of Australia, W.E. Smith Ltd, Will you fight now or wait for this? , 1918, chromolithograph on paper, 98.3 x 74.6 cm
a. How is the enemy depicted, and what message is being presented?
b. How does the artist use text and images to convey this message?
c. What mood is being created?
d. What design elements (colour, typography, shape, space, and scale) have contributed to the mood of this poster?
e. Do you think the artist has been successful in getting their messages across? Why or why not?
f. How do you think these posters might have made Australians with German heritage feel?
3. Below are German propaganda posters that also focus on the notion of the enemy.
Accession Number: ARTV10343
Claus Berthold, Das Duetsche Scharfe Schwert [The German sharp sword], 1917, lithograph on paper, 90.8 x 58 cm
Accession Number: ARTV10346
Leopold von Kalckreuth, Hurrah, Alle Neune [Hurrah, all nine!], 1918, lithograph printed in colour, 75.4 x 57 cm
Accession Number: ARTV05099
Egon Tschirch Was England Will! [What England will do!...], 1918, lithograph printed in colour, 93 x 67cm
a. Translate the text on these posters using Google Translate . You can also find out more about the posters by searching with the image number (such as ARTV10346) at www.awm.gov.au
b. Compare and contrast these three German posters, to the three Australian posters that also focus on the enemy. Identify similarities and differences relating to message, tone, and the representation of the opposing side. Which posters do you think have the greatest impact? Why?
4. Design your own First World War propaganda poster. You might like to consider:
a. Will you use an Australian, British, German, French or other perspective?
b. What are you trying to get the viewer to think or feel?
c. Will your message be positive or negative?
d. What colours, font, size, and style will you use to get your message across?
For more images and activities relating to propaganda posters from the First and Second World Wars, view the Hearts and Minds education kit.
Last updated: 19 January 2021
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War Poster Collection
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A selection of World War I and II posters from the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections Division collections. Included are propaganda on purchasing war bonds, the importance of national security and posters from allied and axis powers.
The University of Washington Libraries Special Collections Division houses many collections of regional and historical significance, notably specialized and scarce materials, such as these examples of World War I and World War II posters. World War I, known as the Great War, stimulated the transformation of this well-established advertising tool into an effective propaganda medium for war. Often designed by the leading artists and illustrators of the time, they were cheap to produce and easy to distribute. Their direct slogans and visual imagery appealed to a variety of cultural and nationalistic themes that served to muster public support for the war campaign. Many were illustrated with compelling images of heroes, sacrifice and family values. While some encouraged the purchase of war bonds and solicited donations for non-profit organizations such as the Red Cross, others promoted patriotism and warned against aiding the enemy with careless talk. The study of this medium leads us to a greater understanding of their effectiveness as tools for propaganda, aids in the analysis of national cultural and symbolic values, and helps define ideological differences between nations at war.
About the Database
The information for the Posters Database was researched and prepared by the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections Division and Cataloging staff in 2000. Not all the posters from the collection were included in this database. The images were scanned in RGB color using a Olympus C-2000 Zoom digital camera and saved in .jpg format. Some manipulation of the images was done to present the clearest possible digital image. The scanned images were then linked with descriptive data using OCLC's CONTENTdm software. The original collection resides in the UW Libraries Special Collections Division as the Posters Collection.
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Second World War propaganda posters
During the Second World War, the Ministry of Information produced propaganda posters to influence the British public on the home front. These posters promoted a range of government campaigns to encourage domestic food production, salvage and military recruitment.
'Squander bug' poster discouraging wasteful spending
Catalogue reference: View the record NSC 5/624 in the catalogue
During the Second World War, the British government encouraged people to save their money and invest in the war effort, rather than personal spending. The National Savings Committee produced publicity material to promote the purchase of national savings certificates and to discourage unnecessary spending.
They employed a humorous cartoon character named 'the squander bug', created by artist Phillip Boydell. The character is depicted covered in swastikas, in an attempt to associate wasteful spending with the Nazi enemy. ‘The squander bug’ appeared in many posters, pamphlets and films during wartime.
'Keep mum she's not so dumb!' anti-gossip poster
Catalogue reference: View the record INF 3/229 in the catalogue
This poster, designed by Harold Forster, was produced in 1941 by the Ministry of Information. It was part of a publicity campaign to alert people to the threat of enemy spies and the danger of gossiping and unintentionally passing information to the enemy.
This poster features a woman in evening dress in the centre, gazing directly toward the viewer, surrounded by men in service uniforms. It was designed to warn service personnel against revealing sensitive military information around unknown civilians, particularly in this case attractive women. This poster was one of several using the slogan 'Keep Mum' and it offers an intriguing insight into cultural conceptions of the roles of women during the Second World War.
'Comrades in Arms' exhibition advertising poster
Catalogue reference: View the record EXT 1/48 in the catalogue
From 1941, the USSR was a vital ally to Britain and the Ministry of Information had the task of promoting its war work to the British people. At the same time, the British government were anxious to avoid celebrating its leadership or communist doctrine.
In 1942, the Ministry of Information created an exhibition called Comrades in Arms: Pictures of the Soviets at War. The exhibition displayed Soviet propaganda posters which had been gifted to the Minister of Supply.
This promotional poster for the exhibition shows Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin united side by side, although with the British prime minister facing away from Stalin's gaze.
Design for salvage appeal poster
Catalogue reference: View the record INF 3/220 in the catalogue
Britain relied on shipping to supply its raw materials during the Second World War, and supply lines were in constant threat from U-boat attacks. It was therefore vital to conserve raw materials at home and the Ministry of Information worked on publicity campaigns to encourage salvage and recycling.
This drawing is a rough design for a poster, in ink and watercolour, by Cyril Kenneth Bird, known by his pen name Fougasse. It was designed to associate salvaging metal, bones and paper with the production of new guns and tanks for the war effort.
Poster for 'Dig for victory' campaign
Catalogue reference: View the record INF 13/140 in the catalogue
Public health and food production was a key concern for the British government during the Second World War. At the outbreak of war, Britain imported 70% of its food from overseas, relying on shipping routes vulnerable to U-Boat attack. Food rationing was introduced in 1940 and more attention turned to fruit and vegetables, which were never rationed. This poster was part of a publicity campaign, initiated by the Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries with the Ministry of Information, and designed to encourage domestic food production. The campaign was a great success and by 1943 more than a million tons of fruit and vegetables were being grown in gardens and allotments around the country.
‘Women of Britain, come into the factories' recruitment poster
Catalogue reference: View the record INF 3/403 in the catalogue
This 1941 poster declaring ‘Women of Britain come into the factories’ was designed by artist and cartoonist Philip Zec. It was part of a recruitment campaign to encourage women to contribute to the war effort by working in factories making munitions and other vital supplies. The design exhibits stylistic elements drawn from Soviet poster art.
‘Make-do and mend’ campaign poster featuring Mrs Sew-and-Sew
Catalogue reference: View the record INF 13/144 in the catalogue
In June 1941, clothes rationing was introduced in Britain. The Board of Trade initiated a campaign to assist the public with this new restriction, under the slogan ‘Make-do and mend’. The campaign encompassed pamphlets, posters, exhibitions and events, showing people how to make and mend their clothes while being efficient with materials and fashionable at the same time.
A new character was created, Mrs Sew-and-sew, to help promote the campaign. This poster features the character prominently and the blank space at the bottom was intended to allow organisers to display information about local events.
‘Let us go forward together' poster depicting Winston Churchill
Catalogue reference: View the record INF 13/213 in the catalogue
This poster was produced by the Ministry of Information to strengthen morale and promote unity after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940. It superimposes a photograph of Churchill over images of planes and tanks with a quotation from his inaugural speech, where he spoke of ‘Blood, toil, tears and sweat’.
'Back them up!' campaign poster
Catalogue reference: View the record INF 13/123 in the catalogue
This poster is one of a series using the slogan 'Back them up!' alongside artwork depicting the British armed forced engaged in fighting. The posters were produced by the Ministry of Information to catch the eye and encourage commitment to war production on the part of civilians on the home front. The illustration in this example is captioned 'R.A.F. day raiders over Berlin's official quarter'.
Poster depicting 'V' for victory in allied flags
This poster was produced by the Ministry of Information to communicate how important Britain's allies were on the path to victory in the Second World War. It depicts a 'V' for victory, in the form of allied flags. The countries represented are the UK, the USA, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Brazil, Yugoslavia, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Poland, China and the USSR.
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Second World War (1939–1945)
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Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections
World war i and world war ii propaganda posters.
Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections, Library and Technology Services Brandeis University
The Brandeis University World War I and World War II Propaganda Posters collection includes nearly 100 different images (a majority from the WWI era) addressing a variety of American war aims. The posters were inspired by Western European examples, and their development and production in the United States harnessed the prodigious skills of artists and industrial designers. Posters often promoted support for programs, including The United War Work Campaign, the Red Cross and most notably, the Liberty and Victory loan programs. The first and second Liberty loan campaigns of 1917, the third and fourth of 1918, and the Victory loan push of early 1919 created a vast amount of poster art on both the local and national levels.
Many designs were created, the majority of which were printed in large quantities. A number of artists were recruited to design propaganda posters during the two wars; many were already widely known through their work in books, magazines and advertising. The Brandeis collection includes such famous artists as Howard Chandler Christy, Haskell Coffin, Casper Emerson, Jr., Harrison Fisher, James Montgomery Flagg, Henry Patrick Raleigh and Adolph Treidler, to name a few; Edward Penfield is not included.
View the full finding aid to the WWI and WWII Propaganda Posters collection.
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