Vintage Posters From the Works Progress Administration

Their advice may be comically obvious, but these public service announcements allowed a generation of artists to shine in dark times.

posters.jpg

Library of Congress

The Great Depression was a dark time for millions of Americans. But even through the financial tragedy, America retained its cultural wealth.

FDR's New Deal and Works Progress Administration were remarkable in that they sought to employ not only construction workers and engineers but also artists and educators. The following illustrations from the WPA are a testament to the idea that good art can be made available to everyone -- and that public service posters and workplace safety guides are as worthy canvases as those found in museums. 

"It was very exciting, very heady actually," Tony Velonis, a Depression-era silkscreen artist, told the Library of Congress in a 1994 interview about working for the WPA. "I couldn't imagine a better art university than the mixture of artists that came together at that time. It was very exciting." 

From a graphical perspective, these posters are remarkable. They share a distinct style, a blunt and colorful pop-art quality that immediately attracts the eye. And the medium fits the  message. A lot of the information displayed is also blunt and even comically obvious to us now. Of course, the market is the place to buy food. And yes, machinery is dangerous!

Other posters require a double-take: Do children really like low-cost housing? Wait, dinosaurs had syphilis? Is the average baby really the most ignorantly nurtured creature in this world? Perhaps not, but maybe during that trip to their local health bureaus, people learned something worthwhile.

Presented by

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

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

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

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in National

Just In