Special Collections

Introduction to the World War I Poster Collection

With over 115 posters in the its holdings, the WWI Poster Collection represents a wide variety of images used for propaganda purposes during the First World War.

Ellsworth Young's poster
depicting the "rape" of Belgium.

As illustrator and artist, Joseph Pennell, observed, "When the United States wished to make public its wants, whether of men or money, it found that art--as the European countries had found--was the best medium." Posters, with the directness of their appeal, were a natural choice. As a medium of persuasion, the posters used easily grasped and, indeed, stereotyped images to sway public opinion. After news of alleged German atrocities in Belgium reached the U.S., the image of the 'Hun' was repeatedly employed to arouse public animosity against the enemy. Fred Strothmann's famous poster "Beat Back the Hun" (right) is a classic example.

The Wilson government's Division of Pictorial Publicity of the Committee on Public Information employed over 300 of the most prominent illustrators of the time to help propaganda efforts.

Among them were artists such as C. B. Falls, E. H. Blashfield, Joseph Pennell, Howard Chandler Christy ("Fight or Buy Bonds"; see below), Joseph Leyendecker, Jessie Willcox Smith and L. N . Britton. Our Collection includes posters of these and other famous artists. These posters cover a variety of themes--from the role of women to liberty loan drives, and from resource conservation to the Red Cross. Many of the poster artists were also prominent as magazine illustrators, etchers, lithographers and writers. Joseph Pennell, for instance, was noted for his architectural drawings and his cover illustrations for Harper's Magazine.

Joseph Pennell's famous poster portraying
New York City under seige is now tragically relevant.
This striking poster went through two million prints.
It was so popular that Pennell even wrote a book on it.
He described the image as,
"New York City bombed, shot down,
burning, blown up by an enemy".

Similarly, Alonzo Foringer's works include not only posters but also Canadian and European bank notes. The Poster Collection also includes the best known posters of the less famous artists (e.g. "For Home and Country" by Alfred Everitt Orr). Several uncommon posters are also part of the Collection (e.g., Edward Penfield's "Every Girl Pulling for Victory"). In its entirety the College's poster Collection presents a multifaceted view of American society during wartime.

The breadth and variety of the posters in Collection make it extremely valuable as an introduction to the political, social, economic and graphic art trends during the First World War in the United States.

For more information about WWI Posters refer to the following sources:

  • Borkan, Gary A. World War I Posters. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publications, 2002.
  • Nudelman, Edward D. Jessie Willcox Smith : A Bibliography. Gretna, La.: Pelican Pub. Co., 1989.
  • Paret, Peter, et al. Persuasive Images : Posters of War and Revolution from the Hoover Institution Archives. Princeton, NJ : Princeton University, 1992.
  • Pennell, Joseph. Liberty Loan Poster: A Textbook for Artists and Amateurs, Governments and Teachers and Printers. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1918.
  • Rawls, Walton.Wake Up, America! World War I and the American Poster.New York: Abbeville Press, 1988.
  • Reed, Walt. The Illustrator in America, 1880-1980 : A Century of Illustration. New York: Madison Square Press,1984.
  • Reed, Walt. The Illustrator in America, 1900-1960's. New York: Reinhold Pub. Corp., 1967.
  • Theofiles, George. American Posters of World War I : A Price and Collector's Guide. New York: Dafran House, 1973.
See complete poster inventories

by Raj Dasgupta 12/12/01


©2014 Franklin & Marshall College | 450 College Ave | PO Box 3003 | Lancaster, PA 17604