The World War II Poster Collection

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Northwestern University Library Government Publications and Maps World War II Posters  

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The World War II Poster Collection

Brief Description

The 338 items, primarily World War II-era posters, featured in this site's database were collected and preserved by the Northwestern University Government and Geographic Information and Data Services Department. Issued by various U.S. government agencies, these posters represent the government's effort, through art, illustration, and photographs, to pull the American people together in a time of adversity for the country and its population.

Scope and Content Notes

  • Number of items in collection: 338
  • Date range: 1940-1947 (majority issued 1941-45)
  • Sizes: majority are mid-sized (c. 70 x 55 cm.), some handbills (c. 35 x 28 cm.), some oversized (c. 100 x 70 cm.), and a few oversized banners (c. 23 x 150 cm. )
  • Originally folded for mailing in an envelope
  • Most are in at least two colors
  • Most are graphic designs, with some photographs
  • Only 58 are signed, by 45 different artists Imprint data is often, but not always, included at top or bottom on poster recto (also verified in the Monthly Catalog of Government Publications)
  • Superintendent of Documents numbers, some extrapolated, have been annotated on many posters; for the online database they have been further verified in the Monthly Catalog of Government Publications

The posters were intended for display in libraries, post offices, schools, factories, and other public places. Some address home efforts for conservation of materials and rationing; others exhort workers to greater productivity and quality output; while others warn of the dangers of innocently leaking critical defense information to unsuspected enemy agents (see the Topics list). Women are encouraged to work in factories or military support positions, and instructed how to behave in these situations. Some of the posters are targeted directly at school children, including charts illustrating how specific savings amounts could outfit the equipment and supplies needed by a brave G.I. soldier. Various series address themes such as nutrition, or investment in war bonds. Some themes were repeated by several government agencies, and some mottoes or insignia appear in a variety of settings, such as the goal of investing "At least 10%" in war bonds.

Along with the posters, several other materials have been included in this digital image collection. First of all, there are a few examples of the Army's Newsmap series from 1943, which combined poster graphics with illustrated news bulletins aimed at reinforcing troop morale. There are also several oversized pamphlets giving background information on how to display the posters and use their graphic motifs in advertising (see especially object number I.17, "A war message from the Treasury Department to promote the sale of U.S. defense bonds . . . through voluntary cooperative advertising"). Finally, there are scanned images of actual coupons and certificates used to purchase sugar, fuel oil, rubber footwear, and an automobile for personal use.

Catalog Access

Catalog records for each of the posters can also be found in the library's online catalog, . These records have also been contributed to OCLC. Information on how the catalog records were converted from MARC format to SGML for use on this web site can be found in the project narrative.

Access to the Original Materials

The original posters have been deacidified and encapsulated in mylar and are housed in the Government and Geographic Information and Data Servieces Department. For assistance, please contact the department.

Related Resources

 govinfo@northwestern.edu