The Art of War:
World War II Posters from the Government Documents Collection


The posters in this exhibit were chosen from among the over 100 World War II era posters in the Government Documents collection at Cornette Library. The posters were obtained between 1942 and 1945 through the Federal Depository Library Program.

Background

[Remember Dec. 7th]

In 1942, after the United States' entry into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the federal government through its many agencies started producing and distributing informational materials to attract and encourage public support for the money, material resources, labor, and personal sacrifices needed to mount a successful war effort.

Large federal agencies such as the Department of War, the Treasury Department, and the Department of Agriculture distributed their own informational materials. To reduce conflict between existing government agencies and to consolidate the distribution of war-related pamphlets, handbooks, and posters, a new agency was created. On June 13, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9182, which created the Office of War Information (OWI).

[Freedom from Fear]

One of the functions of the new agency was the distribution of posters. The OWI distributed posters on a national scale to post offices, schools, and railroad stations. They also depended on local civic groups to distribute posters. Defense Councils in each community were instructed to form a committee to regularly receive posters. The committee determined the number needed by the community, selected posting locations, and set up a route and distribution system. New posters were distributed at the beginning of each month and were put up as soon as possible.

The posters in this exhibit represent a variety of agencies -- the Office of War Information, the Office of Defense Transportation, the Office of Price Administration, the War Finance Division of the Treasury, even the Forest Service. The illustrations and messages provide a glimpse and connection to the war and to those who experienced it.

The Artists

Many well know magazine illustrators and artists contributed their talents to the creation of the posters including Norman Rockwell, Al Parker, Martha Sawyers, John Philip Falter, Jean Carlu, and N.C. Wyeth.

Home Front, September 4 - October 31, 2001

[Don't Let That Shadow Touch Them: Buy War Bonds]

The Treasury Department issued many posters urging people to buy war bonds. These posters provide examples of the diverse styles of posters issued during the war. Protect His Future: Buy and Keep War Bonds uses the image of a cheerful small child to encourage war bond purchases. Victory--You Can Invest In It! uses the patriotic image of the American bald eagle while Don't Let That Shadow Touch Them: Buy War Bonds invokes a sense of fear and dread with its portrayal of children in danger.

[Make This Pledge: I Pay No More Than Top Legal Prices]

The need for recycling was conveyed in the War Production Board's Save Your Cans: Help Pass the Ammunition which urged salvaging tin cans for war production. Make This Pledge: I Pay No More Than Top Legal Prices engaged viewers directly, urging them to help control inflation by not paying more than the legal set price for goods.

[The Sound That Kills: Don't Murder Men With Idle Words]

Many posters were issued that showed the consequences of indiscriminate and careless talk about troop movements and other military-related matters. The Sound That Kills: Don't Murder Men With Idle Words, issued by the OWI, uses a comic strip layout while the War Department's Americans Suffer When Careless Talk Kills uses a heartwrenching illustration of grieving parents to send the same message.

Nation At War, November 8 - December 21, 2001

[United: The United Nations Fight For Freedom]

This Man Is Your Friend: He Fights For Freedom was a series of posters issued by the Office of Facts and Figures in 1942 encouraging support for America's Allies. The flags of the United Nations appear in United: The United Nations Fight For Freedom, issued by the OWI.

[Let's Finish The Job! Urgent-Experienced Seamen Needed]

Recruitment posters include Let's Finish The Job! Urgent-Experienced Seamen Needed, issued by the Maritime Commission, which depicts a determined mariner. Women were encouraged to enter the nursing profession in Become A Nurse: Your Country Needs You, distributed by the OWI.

One of the most famous and popular posters issued was Now--All Together: 7th War Loan, distributed by the Treasury Department in 1945. Based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph of the second flag raising at Iwo Jima, The 7th War Loan campaign raised 26 billion dollars.

[We Have Just Begun To Fight!]

We Have Just Begun To Fight!, issued by the OWI in 1943, borrows from American and French history. The title comes from Revolutionary War naval hero John Paul Jones' famous reply to the British demand for surrender in 1779, "I have not yet begun to fight." The image of the soldier copies a similar figure from a French poster issued during World War I.

[Serve Those Who Served: Nurses are Needed in Veterans Administration Hospitals]

The grim aftermath of war is depicted in Serve Those Who Served: Nurses are Needed in Veterans Administration Hospitals issued by the Veteran's Administration in 1945. The poster depicts a wounded veteran in need of help and care.


More Information

World War II Poster Collection
Digital copies of over 300 World War II posters housed at the Northwestern University library. These posters, issued by U.S. Federal agencies from the onset of war through 1945, cover everything from recruiting to victory gardens. Searchable or browse all posters by title or subject.
Powers of Persuasion: Poster Art from World War II
Digital display from the National Archives on the persuasive powers of World War II posters. Part 1 includes sections on: Man the Guns!; It's a Woman's War Too!; United We Win; Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, Or Do Without; and Four Freedoms. Sections in Part 2 include: Warning! Our Homes Are in Danger Now; This is Nazi Brutality; He's Watching You; He Knew the Meaning of Sacrifice; and Stamp 'em Out!
Produce for Victory: Posters on the American Home Front (1941-45)
A virtual exhibit of World War II posters organized by National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution. Sections include: Every Citizen a Soldier; The Poster's Place in War Time; Retooling for Victory: The Factory Front; Efficient Workers; War Aims Through Art: The U.S. Office of War Information; and Fighting an Ideal America.
World War Poster Collection
Links to other WWII poster collections on the Internet from the United States and other countries. From the University of North Texas.
Historic Government Publications from World War II
Digital copies of over 300 World War II era documents from the United States government. Searchable or browse by title. From Southern Methodist University.
World War I and II Posters and Postcards
A two-year project to digitize and catalog over 8,000 posters from the first and second World Wars held by the University of Minnesota Libraries and the Minneapolis Public Library.
World War Two Newsmaps
The University of North Texas has a digital collection of federal Newsmaps from World War II that nicely complement the World War II posters.

Images courtesy of the World War II Poster Collection
from Northwestern University Library's Government and Geographic Information and Data Services Department.