The WWI Propaganda Machine

The WWI Propaganda Machine
Propaganda posters, WWI
When Congress and the President declared war on Germany in April 1917, mobilization took on extreme urgency.  It was necessary for the country to recruit troops, to train them, and to produce the arms, equipment, and supplies needed to fight.  The US needed bodies, money, and time.  The government didn’t have time to waste while its citizens made up their minds about joining the fight. The government had to persuade Americans to invest in the war, both financially and emotionally.  The financial contributions would be made by purchasing war bonds.  The emotional investment meant believing in the cause and demonstrating that belief through volunteer service and shared sacrifice.  To accomplish this, the government felt compelled to promote a singular patriotic message. 

President Wilson created the Committee on Public Information, an organization that became, under the direction of a journalist named George Creel, unlike any before conceived in warfare.  The U.S. government’s Committee on Public Information formed a Division of Pictorial Publicity in 1917. The chairman reached out to the country’s best illustrators and encouraged them to volunteer their creativity to the war effort. Congress authorized a budget of $1,250,000, but Creel was also heavily subsidized by the Wilson's “President’s fund”.  With near limitless cash at his disposal, Creel soon cranked up the massive propaganda machine. Posters were especially effective—pasted on the sides of buildings, put in the windows of homes, tacked up in workplaces, and resized to appear above cable car windows and in magazines. And they could easily be reprinted in a variety of languages. The U.S. lost no time in producing many more propaganda posters than any other single nation. 

Creel’s campaign was calculated to reach anyone who could understand a picture.  And they were everywhere—on billboards, the walls of subway stations, the sides of barns, anywhere an American might travel.  Creel referred to his ad campaign as the “battle of the fences.” These illustrators produced some indelible images, including one of the most iconic American images ever made: James Montgomery Flagg’s stern image of Uncle Sam pointing to the viewer above the words, “I Want You for U.S. Army.”

World War I propaganda Posters:
Tales of (largely unfounded) atrocities, such as rape, child murder and mutilation and abuse of soldiers' bodies, were behind many of the images for such posters. In this one, the German soldier, identifiable by his spiked helmet, looms up like an ape toward a female figure. The imminence of horror is intensified by the fact that she is clutching a baby and seems, by her pigtail and short skirt, to be merely a girl.Woman and child cowering away from German soldier. "9-B." Sketch style illustration, lithograph poster, mounted and in a frame, Henry Raleigh, 1880-1945, Hun or Home? : Buy More Liberty Bonds