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Propaganda in the Free State: MdHS’s Collection of Poster Art

Before the advent of the internet, one of the simplest and most effective ways of getting the word out to people about a local festival, a concert, or a political message was by slapping a poster on a wall, storefront window, or telephone pole. Just recently, library staff completed an inventory of the over 1,300 posters in the Maryland Historical Society’s Collection. The posters date from 1900 to the present and range from political campaign posters, corporate advertisements, posters for festivals and other cultural events in Maryland, and other items. The majority of the posters are World War I and World War II era propaganda posters.

Below are some selections of World War I and World War II era posters, along with a few other 20th century works from our collection. (Damon Talbot)

In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson, in order to persuade the U.S. public to support American involvement in the “war to end war,” established the Committee on Public Information (CPI). More commonly known as the Creel Committee, after its head, George Creel, the organization put forward an intense propaganda campaign utilizing film, newspapers, radio, and other forms of media to bring the message to the American people. A distinct body, the Division of Pictorial Publicity, was created to oversee the production of posters and other images. Some of the most famous illustrators of the day were enlisted, without compensation, to create artwork for the posters. The imagery promoted various themes ranging from patriotism, enlistment in the armed forces, and domestic service, to negative campaigns exploiting fear and hatred of Germany and its people. By the time the domestic campaign ended in November of 1918, the Division had produced more than 1,400 images.

YMCA – Workers lend your strength to the Red Triangle – Help the “Y” help the fighters fight, United War Work Campaign, November 11 to 18, ca 1917-1918, Gil Spear, artist, Poster Collection, MdHS.

The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) provided morale, entertainment, and education programs for U.S. troops overseas. By the end of the war they had also raised over $155 million for welfare efforts for soldiers.
YMCA – Workers lend your strength to the Red Triangle – Help the “Y” help the fighters fight, United War Work Campaign, November 11 to 18, ca 1917-1918, Gil Spear, artist, Poster Collection, MdHS.

For Every Fighter a Woman Worker – Y.W.C.A. – Back Our Second Line of Defense, United War Work Campaign, ca 1917-1918, Adolph Treidler, artist, Poster Collection, MdHS.

The YMCA and the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) were two of seven organizations that joined together to form the United War Work Campaign, Inc. to “raise and distribute funds to aid war relief efforts at home and abroad.” The YWCA was the only women’s organization in the campaign and devoted itself to “meet the special needs of women and girls affected by the war.”
For Every Fighter a Woman Worker – Y.W.C.A. – Back Our Second Line of Defense, United War Work Campaign, ca 1917-1918, Adolph Treidler, artist, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Books Wanted for Our Men in Camp and “Over There” Take Your Gifts to the Public Library, ca 1917-1918, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Books Wanted for Our Men in Camp and “Over There” Take Your Gifts to the Public Library, ca 1917-1918, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Motherless, Fatherless, Starving, How Much to save these little lives? War Fund Week, One Hundred Million Dollars, May 20th-27th, ca 1917-1918, American Red Cross, Poster Collection, MdHS.

During World War I, the American Red Cross was instrumental in providing medical services and other support for the U.S. military. The organization also created programs to aid civilian refugees.
Motherless, Fatherless, Starving, How Much to save these little lives? War Fund Week, One Hundred Million Dollars, May 20th-27th, ca 1917-1918, American Red Cross, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Beat Back the Hun with Liberty Bonds, ca 1917-1918, F. Strothman, artist, Poster Collection, MdHS.

To help pay for the expense of the war, the U.S. Government borrowed money from U.S. citizens by selling “Liberty Bonds” which would be paid back with interest. After an unsuccessful first Liberty Bond campaign, the government began an aggressive second drive, enlisting celebrities and issuing millions of posters to convince U.S. citizens to purchase bonds. Approximately $17 billion was eventually raised for the war effort through the Liberty Bond campaign.
Beat Back the Hun with Liberty Bonds, ca 1917-1918, F. Strothman, artist, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Halt the Hun! Buy U.S. Government Bonds, Third Liberty Loan, ca 1917-1918, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Halt the Hun! Buy U.S. Government Bonds, Third Liberty Loan, ca 1917-1918, Poster Collection, MdHS.

See Real Warfare “Over There” Cantonment, 5th Regiment Armory Baltimore, Tickets For Sale Here, ca 1917-1918, Lloyd Harrison, artist, Poster Collection, MdHS.

On March 30, 1918 the 5th Regiment Armory hosted a program kicking off the Third Liberty Loan drive in Maryland. The event featured speeches, a concert by the Marine Band of Washington, D.C., films, and a military exhibit. An army plane flew over the city dropping Liberty Loan pamphlets and flyers and landed at Pimlico race track where a performance of the British tank Britannia was held with music provided by the St. Mary’s Industrial School Band.
See Real Warfare “Over There” Cantonment, 5th Regiment Armory Baltimore, Tickets For Sale Here, 1918, Lloyd Harrison, artist, Poster Collection, MdHS.

The Greatest Mother in the World, ca 1917-1918, American Red Cross, A.E. Foringer, artist, Poster Collection, MdHS.

“This was the most famous Red Cross poster during the war, and perhaps the most effective. Featuring a Red Cross nurse holding an injured soldier, the poster is evocative of Michelangelo’s Pieta, a Renaissance sculpture of Mary holding the baby Jesus. The poster helped encourage more than 16 million Americans to join the Red Cross during a week-long Christmas Drive campaign.”
The Greatest Mother in the World, ca 1917-1918, American Red Cross, A.E. Foringer, artist, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Want to Fight? Where the action’s hottest, on Land, Sea, or in the Air, you’ll find U.S. Marines, Real Fighting with Real Fighters. There’s a chance for you. Ask about it at 113 East Baltimore Street, Baltimore, Md., ca 1918, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Want to Fight? Where the action’s hottest, on Land, Sea, or in the Air, you’ll find U.S. Marines, Real Fighting with Real Fighters. There’s a chance for you. Ask about it at 113 East Baltimore Street, Baltimore, Md., ca 1918, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Buy United States Government War Savings Stamps – Your money back with interest from the United States Treasury, ca 1917-1918, Poster Collection, MdHS.

The U.S. Treasury Department issued War Savings Stamps to help fund the war effort in both World War I and World War II. While the Liberty Bond campaign was aimed primarily at financial institutions, the War Savings Stamps campaign was directed at U.S. citizens.
Buy United States Government War Savings Stamps – Your money back with interest from the United States Treasury, ca 1917-1918, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Welcome to Baltimore United Spanish War Veterans, Lord Baltimore Welcomes You, September 3-4-5-6, 1918, A. Hoen & Co., Poster Collection, MdHS.

The Twentieth Annual Encampment of the United Spanish War Veterans was held in Baltimore at the Fifth Regiment Armory in September of 1918.
Welcome to Baltimore United Spanish War Veterans, Lord Baltimore Welcomes You, September 3-4-5-6, 1918, A. Hoen & Co., Poster Collection, MdHS.

During World War II, the poster campaign was even larger than during the Great War, with more than 200,000 different designs printed by the end of the conflict. The Office of War Information (OWI), charged with producing and disseminating the posters, enlisting over 800 professional and amateur artists. Although there were negative depictions of the Axis powers the images created were generally more positive than those produced during World War I, stressing patriotism, duty, heroism, conservation of resources, sacrifice, and avoiding “careless talk.”

He’s Watching You, 1942, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

He’s Watching You, 1942, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Enemy Ears are listening, 1942, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Enemy Ears are listening, 1942, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Award for Careless Talk, Don’t Discuss Troop Movements – Ship Sailings – War Equipment, 1944, U.S. Government Printing Office, Steve Dohanos, artist, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Award for Careless Talk, Don’t Discuss Troop Movements – Ship Sailings – War Equipment, 1944, U.S. Government Printing Office, Steve Dohanos, artist, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Wanted! For Murder – Her careless talk costs lives, 1944, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Wanted! For Murder – Her careless talk costs lives, 1944, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Careless matches aid the Axis – Prevent Forest Fires!, 1942, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Careless matches aid the Axis – Prevent Forest Fires!, 1942, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Have you really tried to save gas by getting into a Car Club?,1944, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Have you really tried to save gas by getting into a Car Club?,1944, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Save waste fats for explosives – Take them to your meat dealer, 1943, U.S. Government Printing Office, H. Koerner, artist, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Save waste fats for explosives – Take them to your meat dealer, 1943, U.S. Government Printing Office, H. Koerner, artist, Poster Collection, MdHS.

The more women at work the sooner we win!, 1943, U.S. Goverment Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

The more women at work the sooner we win!, 1943, U.S. Goverment Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Small Fry, 1943, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Small Fry, 1943, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

For Victory…put at least 10% of every pay into WAR BONDS!, 1942, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster collection, MdHS.

For Victory…put at least 10% of every pay into WAR BONDS!, 1942, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster collection, MdHS.

They’re fighting harder than ever – Are you buying more War Bonds than ever?, 1943, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

They’re fighting harder than ever – Are you buying more War Bonds than ever?, 1943, U.S. Government Printing Office, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Centenary Pageant of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to be held at Baltimore, Md., September 24 – October 8, 1927, Poster Collection, MdHS.

In 1927, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad held the Centenary Pageant of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to celebrate 100 years of railroading. Also known as the Fair of the Iron Horse, the festival attracted over 1 million people.
The Centenary Pageant of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to be held at Baltimore, Md., September 24 – October 8, 1927, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Cream, Baltimore Civic Center, November 3, 1968, poster collection, Maryland Historical Society. The Baltimore Civic Center (today the First Mariner Arena) has played host to countless musical acts over its history, including two performances by the Beatles on September 23, 1964 – their only visit to the city.

Cream, Baltimore Civic Center, November 3, 1968, poster collection, Maryland Historical Society. Read more about the poster documenting Cream’s only Baltimore performance here: http://www.mdhs.org/underbelly/2012/11/12/psychedelic-relic-2/

6th Annual Baltimore City Fair, September 19, 20, 21, 1975, Poster Collection, MdHS.

In 1970, the city held the first annual Baltimore City Fair at the Inner Harbor. The fair was inaugurated to celebrate and showcase the diverse character of Baltimore’s communities – “restoration communities, black communities, ethnic communities, garden communities, golden age communities — all presenting one message, We are Baltimore.” The fair was held annually every September until 1991.
6th Annual Baltimore City Fair, September 19, 20, 21, 1975, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Nixon/Agnew Campaign Poster, 1968, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Nixon/Agnew Campaign Poster, 1972, Poster Collection, MdHS.

Sources and further reading:

Shoken, Fred B. “Bring back Baltimore City Fair,” The Baltimore Sun, September 25, 2000.

Then and Now: The Fair of the Iron Horse

PBS, Gallery”: Poster Art of World War I

American Red Cross: Our History

Smith College, Sophia Smith Collection: YWCA of the U.S.A. Records

Thomas, Christopher C., A Thousand Words: Themes and Trends in Home Front Poster Propaganda of the Second World War, Masters Thesis, May 2007.

Witkowski, Terence H., World War II Poster Campaigns: Preaching Frugality to American Consumers, Journal of Advertising, vol. 32, no. 1, Spring 2003.

Sun Staff, “‘Over There’ Will Open This Afternoon,” The Baltimore Sun, March 30, 1918.

Discussion

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