wwi selling the war
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Critical thinking questions

  1. Why would the U.S. government need to create an advertising campaign to persuade Americans to support the war effort?
  2. In your opinion, what do you think was the most effective strategy for rallying people’s support? Fear? Patriotism? Guilt? What current examples of advertising can you identify that use the same strategies?
  3. How do you think the advertising success of 100 years ago set the stage for how advertising is done now?

Take a closer look

Man hanging posters

Posters were printed by the millions. Notice how they are plastered alongside or on top of product advertising that covered nearly every inch of public space. How is this similar to or different from advertising today?

Even celebrities got in on the act. Here, Hollywood star Fatty Arbuckle helps put up posters with a brush that has been dipped in a bucket of paste. Why would having a “celebrity endorsement” help sell the war?

WWI sheet music cover

Pay attention to the words and images on the cover of this sheet music. What is the title of the song? What is the mom imagining would happen to her son?

What can this tell you about public opinion before the United States’ entry into the war?

WWI liberty bond posters

What different elements do you see in this liberty bond poster? Notice how the German soldier is depicted with menacing eyes and bloodied hands looming over a body of water, presumably the Atlantic Ocean.

What strategy is this poster using to “sell” the war? How is it similar or different to the poster featuring Columbia?

Read more

Explore online

Advertising War: Selling Americans on World War I (National Museum of American History) – A short, complementary exhibit from the Smithsonian, gives an overview of wartime advertising.

The Poster: Visual Persuasion in WWI (The National WWI Museum and Memorial) – A graphics-heavy exhibit that focuses on the how World War I posters sought to inspire a sense of duty, sentimentality or fear.

World War I Posters (Library of Congress) – A huge, searchable collection of almost 2,000 digitized World War I posters.

World War I Era Posters (U.S. Army Center of Military History) – A small collection of World War I posters.

World War I Posters (Naval History and Heritage Command) – A small collection of digitized, downloadable World War I posters.