world war i posters

“Wonder Woman” (1918) - Finally got a chance to see the new Wonder Woman movie on Monday and felt inspired to create a poster connected to the era in which the story was set - World War I. Based on silent film poster stylings of the late nineteen-teens, specifically the WWI film Over The Top.

Wake Up America Day. 1917. James Montgomery Flagg.

27 5/8 x 40 in./70.3 x 101.5 cm

In a design far more Modern than its time, Flagg shows us a stylized minuteman in flat planes of red, white, and blue rousing America to the call of Wake Up America Day. Held on the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, President Wilson had declared war on Germany just two weeks prior – and this Day was supposed to be a giant calling to arms of American men to join the fight.

The YWCA was one of several organizations that comprised the United War Work Campaign, which was formed to support war relief efforts at home and overseas during World War I. As a women’s organization, the YWCA was responsible for providing support to female war workers such as the switchboard operator pictured in this poster. Known as the Hello Girls, hundreds of women served in the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit. 

YWCA. World War I poster. circa 1917-1918. New-York Historical Society.

Wake Up, America! 1917. James Montgomery Flagg.

27 ¾ x 40 3/8 in./70.4 x 102.7 cm

In a memorable image directed towards public awareness, Flagg exhorts America – depicted as Columbia dozing in false security on a front-porch rocker – to rouse itself against the war’s threat to free civilization in Europe. One of the best and rarest of World War I posters.


For the last Woman Crush Wednesday of Women’s History Month, a meditation on the roles - real and symbolic - that American women have played in wartime propaganda. Click the images for information about the posters and the collections they come from. 


James Montgomery Flagg (June 18, 1877 – May 27, 1960) 

American artist and illustrator. He worked in media ranging from fine art painting to cartooning, but is best remembered for his political posters.

He created his most famous work in 1917, a poster to encourage recruitment in the United States Army during World War I. It showed Uncle Sam pointing at the viewer (inspired by a British recruitment poster showing Lord Kitchener in a similar pose) with the caption “I Want YOU for U.S. Army”. Over four million copies of the poster were printed during World War I, and it was revived for World War II. Flagg used his own face for that of Uncle Sam (adding age and the white goatee), he said later, simply to avoid the trouble of arranging for a model. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt praised his resourcefulness for using his own face as the model. (Wikipedia)

From our stacks: 1.-3. Illustrations from The Thirteenth Commandment. A Novel by Rupert Hughes. With Illustrations by James Montgomery Flagg. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1916.  4.-8. Illustrations from Mr. Bingle by George Barr McCutcheon. With Illustrations by James Montgomery Flagg. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1915.

The Navy Wants Men
Color lithograph
Published by The Mortimer Co., Limited (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Soldiers missing home might find comfort in the arms of women infected with sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis—something that the U.S. military wanted to avoid. In World War I, such diseases were rarely talked about openly, as in this poster.  The Hygienic Laboratory, now NIH, did a lot of work on arsphenamine, a drug used to treat syphilis, including standardization and regulation of commercial production, investigating its side effects, and how it worked in the body.  As cited in the 1918 annual report, “The average preparation now on the market is considerably less toxic than the product formerly imported from Germany. This favorable result is partly due to the fact that the laboratory gave every possible assistance to the manufacturers. A member of the division spent several months in one of the largest plants where arsphenamine is made in order to familiarize himself with the difficult manufacture of this product and to render assistance in overcoming the difficulties. The result of this cooperation was that this particular firm was able to increase its output of a better product, thus removing the serious shortage of this drug.”  The development of antibiotics made this work obsolete after World War I.