War Posters of the 20th Century

During the past centrury's two world wars, the U.S. government asked a lot from its citizens -- it asked for savings, for labor, for patriotism, and for sacrifice. And to ask for these directly, various departments of the federal government launched ad campaigns that urged -- sometimes scared -- people to contribute to the war effort. Some posters evoked images of the brutality of our foreign enemies, others suggested the American way of life was in jeopardy. Many of the ads were directed toward selling war bonds -- direct loans to the government. This sort of wartime propaganda has recently come back into the public imagination by way of the new Captain America movie, which shows super-soldier Steve Rogers, the Army not knowing what to do with him, being enlisted for a traveling show to promote war bonds.

These efforts were effective, too. According to the Ad Council, approximately 85 million people purchased U.S. war bonds in the 1940s.

Here's a look at some of the ad campaigns from both world wars, compiled from the Charles B. Burdick War Poster Collection at San José State University Library.

Presented by

Brian Resnick is a staff correspondent at National Journal and a former producer of The Atlantic's National channel.

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis. The only problem? He has to prove it works.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in National

Just In