Many of the World War I posters included in the Weisman Art Museum exhibit focus on mobilizing manpower for the military and assuring adequate labor resources for the war effort. When the United States entered the war in April 1917, the country was poorly prepared both militarily and economically. For several years there had been public debate regarding the American role in world affairs and what might be needed to defend national interests, but the federal government took little action…
Fight or BuyBonds features American propaganda posters produced to rally the people and help support the first World War. Selected from the Weisman collection, the posters address, among other issues, the need for America to participate, innovative governmental financing, ways to help out at home, and the role of women in the effort.
They appealed to citizens’ sense of moral and civic duty, their loyalty to the age and country, and their anger toward the evils of the enemy. Some allude to the hardships of the war and occasionally to the suffering, but in trying to motivate people to serve, sacrifice, or contribute, the posters generally avoided frightening the public. The themes of the posters were markedly similar from one country to the next, as were many of the designs and favored symbols and motifs.
The wartime posters from one hundred years ago offer us insights not only into the purposes they were designed to serve but also about how their creators thought it best to convey their messages and with what visual motifs.
As conversations about nationalism, war, and patriotism animate our news feeds, airwaves, classrooms, and living rooms, this exhibition offers not only historical memory but also context.
Image: James Montgomery Flagg, I Want You for U.S. Army, 1917.