World War II Posters

Most Americans don’t think we were subjected to propaganda in World War Two. Propaganda was something the other side did. Yet Americans were subjected to a barrage of propaganda messages from the famous “Loose Lips Sink Ships” to the less famous “Forest Defense Is National Defense.”

World War Two was a war of production and much of the US war effort wasn’t on the battlefield. Instead, it was in the factories where Americans manufactured immense quantities of everything needed in the war by US forces and Allied forces including tanks, guns, ships, planes, ammunition, parachutes, and such curiosities as Spam, which the Soviets could not get enough of. We shipped millions and millions of cans of Spam to them. So the propaganda posters kept Americans focused on the key issues: be on time to work, and when you got there, then work. Don’t let an American soldier die because he ran out of ammo. Work harder to make more ammo. Our boys are ready to go but they need the rifles you are making so make them faster. And the planes. Make ’em strong but make ’em fast.

A British army officer is purported to have watched American soldiers unloading mammoth amounts of supplies during “Operation Torch,” the invasion and subsequent campaign to seize North Africa from the German Afrika Korps and their Italian allies. “Americans don’t solve problems,” he is reported to have said, “they overwhelm them.”

Keeping the home front producing in huge quantities was the role of these posters. The flip side of these posters was to encourage more specific behavior that was considered beneficial. Here is a random sampling of posters focused on activities.

Title: To all who use libraries : this is our war /
Date: [1942?]
Agency: United States. Office of War Information.
Title: He’s watching you /
Date: 1942.
Agency: United States. Office for Emergency Management. Division of Information.
Title: The enemy is listening : keep it to yourself : he wants to know what you know /
Date: [1942]
Agency: United States. Office of Facts and Figures.
Title: These build strength : meals that are ample, meals well prepared, meals rich in protective foods.
Date: 1941.
Agency: United States. Extension Service.
Title: These breed danger : meals that are too meager, meals poorly prepared, meals low in protective foods.
Date: 1941.
Agency: United States. Extension Service.
Title: Forest defense is national defense : how to prevent forest fires /
Date: [1941?]
Agency: United States. Forest Service.

[Images courtesy of Northwestern Digital Library.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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