One of my favorite collections at the Pratt is the War Posters Collection. Not being a war buff, and not being any kind of expert on early 20th century history, it surprised me a bit at how much I liked them.
The earnest patriotism and calls for sacrifice are combined with portrayals of the enemy in stark terms of good and evil that are difficult for me to imagine today. They reflect attitudes and a social environment far different from the time we live in, and it's absolutely fascinating.
During the first and second World Wars, the U.S. Government had posters created to help mobilize the public and make them more aware of the needs and danger of war. The posters were more than just slogans; they used the powers of art and advertising to instill certain social, economic and political ideas, particularly the strength of the middle class, consumerism and free enterprise.
Still not long after the depression the posters celebrated business, workers and American capitalism, and urged everyone to work, save, and sacrifice for the war effort, which included giving up their luxuries and buying war bonds.
The posters aren’t short on fear and danger, either. The enemy is shown to hate religion, persecute labor, burn books, and ruin family life. Some of the most interesting posters in the collection warn of the dangers of simply talking. There could be a spy around every corner and 'loose talk' could cost American lives.
There are over 1000 posters in the Special Collections Department. You can check out our over 500 of them in our War Posters Digital Collection, and if you’d like to take a closer look in person, give us a call (443-984-2451) or send an email.