During World War I, the impact of the poster as a means of communication was greater than at any other time during history. The ability of posters to inspire, inform and persuade combined with vibrant design trends in many of the participating countries to produce thousands of interesting visual works. As a valuable historical research resource, the posters provide multiple points of view for understanding this global conflict. As artistic works, the posters range in style from graphically vibrant works by well-known designers to anonymous broadsides.
The Library’s Prints & Photographs Division offers some 1,900 posters created between 1914 and 1920. Most relate directly to the war, but some German posters date from the post-war period and illustrate events such as the rise of Bolshevism and Communism, the 1919 General Assembly election and various plebiscites.
The majority of the posters were printed in the United States. Posters from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and Russia are included as well. Subject matter deals primarily with recruitment, finance and home front issues. Although produced in different countries, many designs use symbols and messages that share a common purpose.
James Montgomery Flagg (1870-1960) designed what has become probably the best-known war recruiting poster: “I Want You for U.S. Army.” Said to be a self-portrait, this most recognized of all American posters is also one of the most imitated. Flagg had adapted his design from Alfred Leete’s 1914 poster of Lord Kitchener. Since then, this image of Uncle Sam has been modified and parodied countless times.