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Historic upload: Digitizing World War I posters

February 2, 2016

Filed under Pennsylvania State Archives, Pennsylvania Treasures, Stories from the Home Front

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Third Liberty Loan Act World War I poster

This World War I Poster was created in 1917 in advance of the Third Liberty Loan Act which was issued on April 5, 1918. The illustration depicts a young woman holding the Stars and Stripes above her head while beseeching Americans to join the armed forces and help fight, or buy liberty bonds to help pay for the war effort. In the background are American doughboys marching past towards their destinies. The illustrator for this poster was Howard Chandler Christy, a well-known American artist.

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.

World 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.

Numerous 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.

Various posters sent messages to the home front advising people to do all they could to support the war effort.

Numerous 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.

The 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.

This special edition of Pennsylvania Treasures, as written by Pennsylvania State Archivist Richard Saylor, highlights the collaboration between the Pennsylvania State Archives and the State Library of Pennsylvania to bring these historic posters to new and expanded audiences.  


About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.