Advertising War

The Poster Campaign

The Division of Pictorial Publicity created 700 designs for posters on behalf of multiple government departments. Some posters spurred enlistments in the armed forces (two million volunteered; nearly three million more were drafted). Others fanned fear or hatred of a racially stereotyped “Hun.” Some promoted the purchase of war bonds, which raised $24 billion. Others elicited sympathy for our Allies—especially victims of the war.

Posters were printed by the millions and plastered alongside or on top of product advertising that covered nearly every inch of public space. Here, in 1917, Hollywood star Fatty Arbuckle lends a hand.
Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration

Go Over the Top with U.S. Marines
American World War I poster by artist John A. Coughlin for the U.S. Marines. Depicted is a U.S. Marine carrying a Lewis light machine gun into combat with fellow Marines and an American flag visible in the background.

Halt the Hun!
American World War I poster by artist Henry Patrick Raleigh for the Third Liberty Loan. Depicted is an American soldier pushing a German soldier away from a woman and child as fires burn in the background.

Beat Back the Hun with Liberty Bonds
American World War I poster by artist Frederick Strothmann. Depicted is a German soldier with bloody bayonet and hands looming over a body of water, presumably the Atlantic Ocean.

Weapons for Liberty
American World War I poster by artist Joseph C. Leyendecker for the Boy Scouts of America Third Liberty Loan Campaign. Depicted is a Boy Scout kneeling while handing a sword to Liberty who holds a shield.
Gift of Norman H. Brock

Remember Belgium
American World War I poster by artist Ellsworth Young for the Fourth Liberty Loan. Depicted is an armed German soldier dragging a Belgian woman behind him while fires burn in the background.

Take a Closer Look

Note how advertisers rendered the enemy with a dark complexion and ape-like features. And note as well that his victims were white women.

At a time when scientific racism had not yet been debunked, dark skin and simian features were thought to be indicators of uncivilized, threatening people. Posters incorporating this imagery were meant to spur white Americans to action by playing on their association of non-whites with danger or threats to civilization and white womanhood.

Destroy This Mad Brute
American World War I poster by artist Harry R. Hopps for the U.S. Army. Depicted is a crazed gorilla, representing Germany, carrying a bloody club and the limp body of a woman while standing on the American shore.
Gift of Mrs. Alfred Marston Tozzer