NEW! See three War Exposition posters just added to this online exhibit and a slideshow of Felix J. Koch's photos of World War I posters on display in Cincinnati.
About This Online Exhibit
The Cincinnati History Library and Archives at Cincinnati Museum Center is home to a collection of approximately 300 World War I posters. Many of these posters were produced by Cincinnati area lithography companies including Cohen & Co. and Strobridge Lithographing Company.
This online exhibit features digital images of 18 posters drawn from the library’s collection. Some of the examples selected are well-known and others are less frequently encountered. All feature remarkable artwork and vivid colors along with different types of messaging, from recruitment messages to appeals for the sale of Liberty Bonds. Women’s images, both on the home front and in uniform, are central to a number of the featured posters.
The World War I posters in the library’s collection were acquired through donation and include examples produced in France, Belgium, Italy, Poland, Canada and the United States. The posters are an important reminder of the period before commercial radio and television when this visual medium served as an important method of communicating with, and influencing, a mass audience.
World War I (1914-1918) featured the use of posters as a means of communication on a mass scale never seen before. The medium was employed extensively by both sides, the Allied Powers and the Central Powers, for many of the same purposes during the war.
The war posters often used stark or dramatic imagery that gave them a powerful visual and psychological impact, important in conveying a message. Posters were used to encourage enlistment and to promote support for the war effort. Often referred to as propaganda posters, the medium was also used to manipulate public opinion. Posters were effective in promoting a cause or in damaging an opposing cause. They helped galvanize public opinion, enhance morale, warn of the evils and dangers of an enemy, encourage shared sacrifice, and promote the productivity of labor in support of the war effort.
Posters often portrayed the enemy as brutal, sadistic and inhumane, while emphasizing the strength, morality and heroism of one’s own side. The changing role of women is also reflected in the World War I posters. Although traditional roles are still depicted, women also appear in uniform and performing war production work.
During the war, approximately 3,000 different poster designs were created and mass produced in the United States alone. The U.S. Office of Public Information had a Division of Pictorial Publicity, organized and headed by Charles Dana Gibson, best known for his earlier "Gibson Girl” illustrations. Gibson brought together a group of talented artists and illustrators to design posters for various federal and private agencies. Like Gibson, these artists wanted to lend their talents and experience to help win the war. The U.S. Navy also had a similar group working on poster designs.
For more information on propaganda posters, read our digial journals article Images of Propaganda: World War I and World War II Posters by Mary Rider (from Queen City Heritage 41 (Fall 1983): 31-36).
Director, Cincinnati History Library & Archives and History Collections
This exhibit and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center's exhibit Cincinnati's Soldiers: Men and Women in the First World War are presented as part of Cincinnati Remembers WWI, a citywide series of events commemorating the centenary of the First World War and anticipating Cincinnati Opera's production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night in July 2014. For more information, please visit www.cincinnatiopera.org/WWI.