During World War I, large color posters first became essential weapons in the propaganda arsenal of all the warring powers. Once used to market and advertise products, posters began to serve in support of the war effort. The public was encouraged to donate funds for war bonds, join the armed forces, conserve resources, and hate the enemy. Posters also helped to express and popularize each nation's war aims.
During World War II, propaganda agencies recruited artists—both from the fine arts and from more popular illustrated journals—to design posters. As American propaganda official George Creel explained: "It was not only that America needed posters, but it needed the best posters ever drawn."1 To reach the millions of immigrants in the United States, Creel's agency—the Committee on Public Information (CPI)—produced materials in many different languages, including German, Norwegian, Ukrainian, and Russian.
Creel and the CPI had learned to appreciate the powerful appeal of the poster. Describing his work during WWI, he remarked: "What we wanted—what we had to have—was posters that represented the best work of the best artists—posters into which the masters of the pen and brush had poured heart and soul as well as genius."2
More than two decades after WWI, American propaganda officials contacted the country's artists and advertisers to shape messaging for the fight against the Axis. Francis E. Brennan, the art director at Fortune magazine, was selected to lead the Office of War Information’s Division of Graphics. Brennan sent an urgent plea to American artists:
....the essence of art is freedom. Without it the world of art could not exist. We know that the enemy is trying
to destroy freedom—that he has long since chained together his men of talent. We know the total pattern of
his wretchedness—we saw it first when he destroyed the works and lives of those whose art was a threat to
his evil purposes....We saw, in short, an unprincipled plan to degenerate and possess men’s minds.3
Graphic artists like Bernard Perlin4 answered Brennan's call. To lend their works greater power and spark patriotic feeling, Perlin and others often rooted them in dramatic scenes from American history.5 In the poster presented here, Perlin places Americans fighting the Axis powers in line with the struggle of soldiers in the American Revolutionary War.6 How might such a comparison have motivated Americans to fight?