While the United States did not enter the First World War until 1917, they produced more war propaganda posters than all the other belligerent countries combined: 20 million copies of approximately 2,500 different posters. The United States’s Publicity Bureau quickly learned that propaganda posters worked as “a silent and powerful recruiter.”
Posters were an excellent way to disseminate news and information in an era before radios were commonplace in homes. The images were effective, and one did not have to be literate to understand their meaning.
Harry A. Garfield, the head of the wartime United States Fuel Administration, spoke of posters’ ability to get the word out to people:
“I can get the authority to write a column or a page about fuel—but I cannot make everybody or even anybody read it. But if I can get a striking drawing with or without a legend of a few lines, everyone who runs by must see it.”
Some of the most successful poster artists came from magazine and book publishing, which makes sense, as they had been trained to create artwork that was evocative. And that was the point of propaganda posters–to appeal to one’s emotions and give one cause for immediate action.
Below is a selection of war propaganda posters found in the digital “North Carolinians and the Great War” project by UNC Chapel Hill’s Documenting the American South program. These posters were widely distributed in North Carolina, and throughout the United States. You can see the full collection here.
Source: American Posters of the Great War by Dr. Libby Chenault