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Visual Propaganda

Government agencies and fundraising organizations throughout the countries involved in the Great War harnessed the power of the poster to influence audiences through graphic communication. Artists and publicists collaborated to produce a golden age of posters that inspired communities to support the war effort by joining up, conserving food and supplies, buying war bonds, and contributing to relief organizations. In the United States, the Committee on Public Information formed a Division of Pictorial Publicity under the direction of the artist Charles Dana Gibson, which created persuasive, visually rich posters that promoted the war. Posters were used throughout North America, Europe and Oceania to recruit military personnel through such memorable designs as Montgomery Flagg’s famous “Uncle Sam Wants You,” based on the earlier British poster, “Lord Kitchener Wants You.” German and Austrian agencies similarly enlisted prominent graphic designers to create arresting posters, such as those designed by Hans Rudi Erdt, a commercial advertising designer, and Maximilian Lenz, an artist who came to fame a generation earlier during the Vienna Secession. In addition to developing attention-grabbing slogans, designers in Europe also appropriated iconography, often from medieval heraldry, to rally support, valorize honor in war service and demonize the enemy. Saint George and the Dragon, for instance, could be found in German, British and Russian posters in which the heroic figure vanquishes the monster. Although late to adopt visual forms of propaganda, the Ottoman Empire did follow western European example in combining imagery with text to promote its naval prowess.

  • Maximilian Lenz. Zeichnet die Sechste Kriegsanleihe [Subscribe to the Sixth War Loan]. Vienna: B. Wiener, 1917.
  • Britain Needs You at Once! London : Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, 1915.
  • Yankovsky, War Loan, 5 1/2%. Our Great Army Has Spilled its Blood for the Fatherland, Fulfilling its Duty. Fulfill Your Duty, Too. Subscribe to the Loan, 1916.
  • Hans Rudi Erdt, U-Boote Heraus! [The U-boats Are Out!]. Berlin: Hollerbaum & Schmidt, 1917.
  • “Auxiliary Navy of the Ottoman Empire” [cover image]. Donanma Mecmuasi [The Navy Journal], Inaugural issue. Istanbul, Turkey, March 14, 1910.