Historic World War I Posters Digitized
The Pennsylvania State Archives, in cooperation with the State
Library of Pennsylvania, has digitized a collection of World War I posters from its Manuscript Group 200 – Poster
Collection and made them available online. This assemblage consists of 258 posters, most
of which include color or black-and-white illustrations. The posters were
produced primarily on a national scale, although some were also made locally.
Most were created in the United States, however, a number were manufactured in
Europe, particularly in Britain, France and Italy. Some portray famous and
legendary figures such as Joan of Arc and Uncle Sam, while others feature
illustrations of common soldiers and civilians. The posters helped to fan the
fires of patriotism throughout the United States during the Great War, and
helped to transition the country’s position from one of isolationism to one of
openly becoming military partners with the Allied Forces in Europe.
War I began in Europe in July 1914, shortly after Austria’s Archduke Franz
Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist on June 28. Initially the
United States remained neutral as the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary,
Turkey and Bulgaria) fought against the Allied Powers (France, Great Britain,
Russia and Italy). However, in April 1917, the United States declared war
against Germany, and later that year against Austria-Hungary. The impetus,
according to President Woodrow Wilson, was Germany’s unrestricted submarine
warfare in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
posters were produced to encourage the purchase of Liberty Bonds during the
four Liberty Loan Acts to help finance the United States’ war efforts. Other
prominent themes were: Recruitment into the Armed Forces, Food Conservation,
Red Cross, United War Work Campaign and the YMCA/YWCA.
posters sent messages to the home front advising people to do all they could to
support the war effort.
World War I posters were directed at women in roles such as mothers, gardeners,
shoppers and seamstresses. Mothers were encouraged to send their sons off to
war, create victory gardens, shop only for essentials and sew and knit clothing
for their families and the troops overseas. Unlike World War II posters, the
ones from the First World War did not often depict women as part of the
manufacturing team for the war effort.
posters were created by famous, obscure and, in some cases, unknown
illustrators. Many were printed by federal agencies such as the Federal
Recruitment Office and the National War Garden Commission. The posters are full
of color and dramatic symbolism. They were printed to arouse the American
fighting spirit and the will to sacrifice on the home front. The United States
intervention in World War I led to victory for the Allied Forces and the end of
the First World War on November 11, 1918.