War posters are always dramatic, but designs from World War I are especially so. Whether dealing with issues of food, safety, recruitment, or women’s participation, urgency and exaggeration were key tools for disseminating information and rallying action. This period also spurred some of the most memorable American images from Christy, Flagg, Leyendecker, and Penfield, among others.
20 x 30 in./51 x 76.2 cm
“Because of desperate food shortages in Europe, it was understood that America must find a way to feed the Allies—she already supplied wheat for ninety-percent of Britain’s daily bread. The generosity and compassion of the American people and the great agricultural resources of the North American continent would be called upon… Twenty million Americans signed pledges of membership in the Food Administration, which obligated them to conserve scarce food so that our Allies in Europe would not have to go hungry. In addition to meat and eggs, Americans were urged to cut back on wheat, the single most vital food item… Meatless and wheatless days each week were patriotically subscribed to by America’s families” (Rawls, p. 112-115). This was one of the many posters published by the U.S. Food Administration aimed at pleasing recent immigrants with an inspiring New York harbor scene that shows the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan shimmering under a patriotic rainbow. The poster was produced in a total of five languages: English, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, and Yiddish.
27 x 41 in./68.7 x 104 cm
MoMA featured this world-famous Christy poster in its exhibition “Designing Modern Women 1890-1990,” which ran from October 2013-October 2014. They wrote of it, “In World War I, the front-line was not viewed as a place fit for a woman. While kept away from direct combat, however, women were a valuable asset in recruiting men to the navy. The winsome pin-up in ‘Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man’ (modeled by Mrs. E. LeRoy Finch) sports a fluttering naval uniform; the whole look and chatty tone was extremely effective in underscoring the masculine appeal of serving soldiers. Here was a woman worth fighting for. The poster was admired for its American ‘punch’ and ‘air of glad youth which came like a Spring wind over our war-weary spirits.'” This printing does not include recruiting station address information, which occurs on some other versions of the poster.
28 1/4 x 41 1/4 in./71.6 x 104.6 cm
Because film was the most effective way of reaching and eliciting a response from the American public during the War, “the Committee on Public Information became the official distributor for movies taken by military cameramen… When films began to arrive from France (censored of hardship, mutilation, and atrocity), the Committee would make duplicate prints of those thought most useful to the war effort and distribute them to the news media, to libraries, and to historical societies. The bulk of the motion picture footage shot at the front was made available, for a fee, to the weekly film-news syndicates. Experienced film editors did what they could to put the remaining footage into stirring movies to distribute free among state councils of defense and various patriotic societies” (Rawls, p. 141 and 143).
28 1/8 x 40 7/8 in./71.6 x 104 cm
Flagg’s “Wake Up, America!” design was so stunning that President Wilson designated April 19, 1917 in New York City as Wake Up America Day. The event concurred with Patriot’s Day, the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. In this modern-before-its-time design—so different from everything else Flagg was doing during this period—the artist depicts Jean Earl Möhrle who dressed as Paul Revere and rode on a horse through Manhattan for the event. The U.S. had declared war on Germany just two weeks before, and this was intended to spur military recruiting for Doughboys to go “over the top” “Over There,” but its message remains startlingly contemporary.
28 1/8 x 41 3/4 in./71.5 x 106 cm
Columbia sleeps, clothed within the Stars and Stripes on a front-porch rocker in this alarm clock to the nation. One of the best and rarest of World War I posters, its slogan has been used as a title for innumerable books, including Rawls’ famous “World War I and the American Poster”—and its message is seemingly inexhaustible and just as potent today as 102 years ago.
30 x 40 1/4 in./76.2 x 102.3 cm
Although Flagg was already a successful and prolific illustrator by the time World War I started, this poster was to become “his greatest public triumph.” He used himself as a model, and the work was “originally used on a Leslie’s Magazine cover in late 1916, and was quickly adopted by the Army when the war broke out. All told nearly 5 million were printed in both world wars” (Theofiles, p. 9).
28 1/4 x 40 7/8 in./71.8 x 103.7 cm
Leyendecker was commissioned to design posters during both World War I and II. Here, a sailor and Liberty clasp hands, symbolically sealing their pact of safeguarding the world against the enemy, while she rests her arm reassuringly on his shoulder.
30 x 25 1/4 in./76.2 x 64 cm
Since “an army runs on its belly,” and “food will win the war,” this was one of many appeals to work the land on behalf of the effort to win World War I. This time, however, it’s a solicitation for the Y.W.C.A., created by the great illustrator Edward Penfield, depicting four clean-faced girls in uniform heading home after a day’s harvest.
28 x 40 3/4 in./71.2 x 103.7
Pennell presents a shocking and apocalyptic portrayal of what the Great War would look like if it came to American shores: Lady Liberty headless, destroyers foundering upon the rocks of Liberty Island, bombers streaming unchallenged overhead, and Manhattan a wall of flame. This was printed on behalf of the 4th Liberty Loan drive to fund the U.S. war effort. This is the larger format.
In-gallery viewing February 7-22 (daily 11am-6pm)