Propaganda posters in their war time role as a mass communications medium has been just a important as any other facet of war operations including airplanes, tanks and guns. In such a role the propaganda poster perhaps reached its peak during the First World War. This was a time when there was no radio or television and moving pictures were silent and in their infancy. It was a situation that was ideal for a communications medium that conveyed easily digestible information in a forceful and simple way.
Governments of the warring nations used powerful images and slogans to recruit armies, boost public morale to maintain popular support for the war effort and to raise massive funds to finance the materiels of war to prevent government bankruptcies. Encouraging conservation of resources and growing your own food was also important. As was portraying the enemy in a disparaging and barbaric light and as a serious threat to a civilised country’s way of life. This was typically depicted by Joseph Pennell’s propaganda poster of New York and the Statue of Liberty being destroyed by enemy bombers.Although each side in the First World War had remarkably similar themes, the style of posters for each side involved in the First World War were very different. This was mainly due to the culture the posters were made in. To find more info on Plakater.
The Central Powers of Austria-Hungary and Germany for instance favoured the designers of the Vienna Secession whilst also making use of Plakatstil or Poster Style made popular by Berhard. They used simple yet powerful images and words. The style of the Allies was more illustrative with literal rather than symbolic imagery. Typical of this type of poster was the 1914 British propaganda poster by Alfred Leete comprising an image of Lord Kitchener pointing to the reader proclaiming “Your country needs you”. Originally from the cover of the London Opinion magazine the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee gained permission to use it as a poster. It subsequently became one of the most enduring and iconic images of the twentieth century.
The equivalent US poster, designed in 1917, replaced Kitchener with a self potrait of the artist Montgomery Flagg as Uncle Sam proclaiming “I want you for the US army”. It was such a potent image that the US used the same, albeit slightly revised, poster in the Second World War as did the British with theirs. The Allies used a two pronged attack in recruiting. The first as can be clearly seen from above was to appeal to patriotism. When patriotism did not work, inducing guilt was then resorted to. A great example of this was the 1915 “Daddy what did you do in the Great War” poster which was designed by Savile Lumley.
World War Two
Although only separated by twenty-one years the Second World War was fought in a very different way. No longer was there the long drawn out stalemates of the trenches fought mainly away from civilian populations. Instead it was lightening invasions by mechanised divisions and aerial bombardment of industry and cities.
It was a situation were there were numerous inexpensive, quality and reliable daily and weekly newspapers and radio was listened to by millions. The propaganda poster therefore could not play the same role as it had previously done in WWI.
Instead it was used to reiterate themes covered by newspapers and radio and to provide essential and useful items of information. With the mechanisation of war both on land and in the air it was clear from the outset of America’s involvement that an essential element of this war was production. Even before they entered the war they were supplying both the UK and the Russians with needed supplies via the North Atlantic convoys. With Charles Coiner appointed as art consultant by the US federal government the campaign to build up production was started. Perhaps the most enduring poster promoting production was Jean Carlu’s ‘America’s Answer! Production’ of which over 100,000 were distributed nationwide.
Once again portraying the enemy as barbaric and a serious threat to civilisation and democracy was utilised. With large numbers of men fighting in the armed forces the work place was undermanned, which posed the very serious problem of maintaining food and munitions production. To fill this shortfall in the workforce propaganda posters were employed appealing for women volunteers to fill the gap and keep the war effort going.Perhaps the most famous of these was WWII US icon, Rosie the Riveter designed by J. Howard Miller , who was introduced as a symbol of patriotic womanhood complete with uniform, tools and lunch pail in a revised image of the feminine ideal. Between the two world wars the propaganda poster had come to play an important role in polical life. In Europe, they were used as a two-edged sword. One edge for vilifying and destroying the repute of opponents. The other edge was used to enhance the image of their own political party members.
National flags and heraldic symbols had disappeared. In their place were the symbols of Nazism, Fascism and Communism ie the swastika, fasces and the hammer and sickle. The distinct personal images of polical leaders such as Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin were employed to embody the power and ideology of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Soviet Russia respectively. This was in stark contrast to the caricatured image of Hitler with his hair falling across his forehead, his black moustache and Nazi armband used by the Allies in a series of posters designed by Abram Games warning that “careless talk” costs lives.
Other war time posters varied in style from humorous cartoon drawings to the use of photographs as diagrams in sequences of numbered instructions.Second World War propaganda poster artists include Abram Games, G.R.Morris, F.Henrion, J.Howard Miller, Howard Christy, Howard Christy , Herbert Matter, Leo Lionni, Jean Carlu Charles Coiner.