The Enoch Pratt Free Library houses over 500 original World War I and World War II posters. Acting as a propaganda tool, the posters urged Americans to work, conserve, and fight for the war effort.
Collection Location: Special Collections Department, Enoch Pratt Free Library / State Library Resource Center
Collection overview: Propaganda, the systematic dispersal of a doctrine, peaked in the United States during World War I and World War II. The United States government utilized propaganda measures to mobilize its citizens and make them more aware of the immediate tasks of preparing for war and the goal of winning the war. In the absence of media such as television, posters played a key role in spreading the word. Their key to effectiveness was that they were immediate, inexpensive, and easily understood.
War Posters were more than slogans; they adopted the power of art and advertising to convey social, economic, and political ideas. They invoked imagery that celebrated middle-class, traditional families, consumerism, and free enterprise. In a time when the country was still reeling from the Depression, the posters reinforced positive images of business, workers and management, and American capitalism.
World War I posters employed stereotyped heroes and villains, God and saints, blatant appeals to duty, and Uncle Sam. World War II artists and illustrators emphasized participation and cooperation. There were six basic themes of World War II posters:
- The first theme was that the nature of the enemy hates religion, persecutes labor, kills minorities, and ruins home life.
- The second theme stressed the close tie with the United States' allies.
- The third theme was the need for American men and women to work in factories, ships, fields, and mines in order to bolster the war effort.
- The fourth theme was the need to fight by waging war on land, in the sea, and in the sky.
- The fifth theme was the need to sacrifice by conserving, giving up luxuries, buying war bonds, and devoting time to the war effort.
- The sixth theme was Americans and freedom-- Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed Congress in January of 1941 and said that Americans need to have freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
Combining themes and tugging at Americans' patriotic sense of duty, private and government artists produced over thousands of posters during the war. The Office of War Information arranged for local defense councils to have volunteers distribute the free posters and display them in libraries, post offices, schools, and factories.
The variety of posters, the level of artistic achievement, and the effectiveness of the War posters campaign deserve recognition. The Enoch Pratt Free Library houses over 1,000 World War I and World War II original posters. The following display is an example of the themes and styles that artists used to promote the war effort in the United States.
A full list of the collection may be found here.