World War 1 Propaganda

Considering the United States’ tumultuous history of warfare in the 18th and 19th centuries, convincing the American public to support yet another war was going to take a bit of creativity. Enter the use of propaganda, or targeted ads and media campaigns that were used to persuade the United States to support the war efforts during World War I. Propaganda as we know it today might come in the form of commercials, but in the early 1900s, these were artfully drawn posters and newspaper ads whose goal was to get people on board with the fighting. They were used to encourage men to join the war, to save on items such as gasoline, and to create negative feelings and opinions against the enemy forces in the war.

The first batch of propaganda posters and ads targeted young and able-bodied men. This type of poster was not just used in the United States, but in many different countries who were embroiled in World War I. A popular design was to feature a member of the army or a fictional character, such as the U.S.’s Uncle Sam, pointing and telling the person who was looking at the poster to join in the war effort. Some of these posters were more direct, while others preached a message of unity. These posters therefore acted as a call to arms to have men enlist in the army to fulfill a patriotic duty.

Another type of poster was used to instill fear in the American public, typically by depicting the enemy (usually Germany) as some monster to be scared of. It was not uncommon for posters to feature images of Germans with big weapons, Germans as fierce gorillas invading American shores and taking prisoners, or pictures of exploded buildings that put blame on German bombs.

A third type of poster targeted the American citizens who were home, yet who also wished to support the war efforts. Calls to save gasoline so that they could be used by the tanks overseas were abundant. It was in this way that the government encouraged rationing, or a system which allows people to only have so much of a particular item so that it might be saved for someone else. People not only rationed gasoline, but household staples such as butter and other fats, wheats, meat, and sugar. Americans could also help to finance the war by buying Liberty Bonds, or bonds that were issued to the people by the American government. Citizens bought these bonds, and the money went to the government to fund the war effort. Posters encouraging people to buy bonds made it seem as though giving money toward the war was just as important as fighting in it, and it therefore made Americans of any culture or background feel as though they could contribute without having to be drafted.


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