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K–12 teaching and learning · from the UNC School of Education

World War I propaganda posters

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Americans were not eager to enter the war, and Americans of German ancestry tended to support Germany, not Britain and France. The government's first task was to convince citizens that they must support the war effort without reservation. Here, a woman clad in the stars and stripes represents America and American liberty.

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While England and France were depicted as "civilization," Germany was shown as a "mad brute" -- here, a giant, drooling gorilla weilding the club of German kultur (culture) and carrying the limp, half-naked body of a woman. As a result of propaganda like this, German Americans -- many of whose ancestors had lived in America for centuries -- faced persecution during the war.

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In this poster, a German soldier with menacing eyes and bloody fingers looms across the Atlantic.

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The United States Army was quite small in the spring of 1917. A draft was quickly established, but men were urged to enlist for service. This poster, showing a cavalry charge, portrayed military service as heroic.

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This famous portrayal of "Uncle Sam" first appeared during World War I.

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If the thrill of heroism didn't convince young men to join the army, pretty girls might.

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Military service offered young men the chance to travel the world and see places they could never otherwise have visited. Here, a young sailor, suitcase in hand, steps "ashore, on leave."

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The army offered men a chance to learn skills that might serve them in a future job or "trade." This recruitment strategy -- still seen today in television commercials -- was used for the first time in World War I.

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College students were encourage to enlist, as well. Here a sailor tells a young man in a suit, "Don't read American history — make it!"

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Men who stayed safe at home would be left out of the glory. Here, a man stays safe inside, left in the shadows, while victorious soldiers parade outside his window.

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Men at home did have important work to do, though. Here, an industrial worker uses a rivet gun, perhaps in building ships or tanks for the army. "Rivets are bayonets," the poster says -- industrial work was just as important as military service.

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Women could not serve in the army, but they could help the war effort in other ways. This poster urged women to knit socks for soldiers, even though textile factories made soldiers' uniforms. Efforts like these had more to do with generating feelings of patriotism than with actually supplying the troops.

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Women who wanted to play a more active role could serve as nurses. This poster showed nursing as the natural extension of motherhood. A Red Cross nurse, "our greatest mother," shelters a young girl from the war raging in the background.

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More and more women were working outside the home in the 1910s, and this poster spoke to women's desire for a career of their own. Nursing, it said, "offers almost unlimited opportunities."

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The army also hired women to serve as telephone operators overseas, as this poster shows. The United War Work Campaign was a combined effort of several organizations, including the Y.W.C.A., to raise money for the war.

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To finance the war, the U.S. Government borrowed money from Americans by selling "Liberty Bonds" that would be paid back with interest. The first bond drive fell short of its goals, though, and the government began an aggressive campaign to convince Americans to subscribe. This poster reminded people of the suffering of European children.

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Americans at home were reminded that their boys in uniform were "giving their lives over there" and encouraged to "give every cent" they could spare to buy Liberty Bonds.

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This poster played more vividly on the guilt of people on the home front. "This boy has made his last great sacrifice," the caption reads. "Are we, as Americans, doing our part?"

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Immigrants were the target of this campaign. America had given them liberty, the poster reminded them; now it was their duty to buy bonds to help preserve it.

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Children couldn't afford liberty bonds, but to encourage them to support the war, the government sold war savings stamps worth 10 cents and 25 cents. Like war bonds, the stamps paid interest. In this poster, Uncle Sam teaches children a lesson not only about patriotism but about the importance of saving.

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Because so much food was needed for soldiers and starving civilians in Europe, Americans were encouraged to keep gardens. (In World War II, these gardens would be called "victory gardens.") This poster shows three men with crops in poses like those in Archibald Willard's famous painting Spirit of '76, and calls on the "Spirit of '18."

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Children could work in gardens, too. A government program called the United States School Garden Army encouraged kids to feel that by gardening, they were fighting in France alongside the men in the trenches. Gardening, wrote President Wilson, "is just as real and patriotic an effort as the building of ships or the firing of cannon."

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Even the smallest children were enlisted in the war effort. Wheat was needed for soldiers, and so children (and their mothers) were encouraged to eat other grains such as oatmeal, corn, and rice -- and were reminded, like children everywhere, to clean their plates.

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