History on the Home Front: The Power of the Poster in WWI

July 22, 2017–October 15, 2017 Wood Museum of Springfield History

A showcase of over a dozen original posters dating from 1917-1919. Bearing the stamp “post conspicuously,” these posters would have been displayed on billboards or placed in railway stations, at bus stops, in theaters and schools or any place people might gather in Springfield and the towns of the Connecticut River Valley.

In November 1916 Woodrow Wilson won his second presidential campaign with the slogan, “He kept us out of the War.” A few months later circumstances forced Wilson to reverse course and declare war against the Imperial Government of Germany. With the necessity of unifying people in favor of War, the President launched the Committee on Public Information (CPI), an all-out effort to change public perception of the War and sustain national morale. All of which CPI accomplished by using all the persuasive methods of advertising and salesmanship it had in its toolkit. One such tool was the propaganda poster.

The Division of Pictorial Publicity created more than 700 posters promoting Liberty Bonds, military recruitment, food conservation, and other patriotic issues using images created by some of the country’s most illustrious artists, including Charles Dana Gibson, N. C. Wyeth, James Montgomery Flagg, and even a young Norman Rockwell. The posters deployed strong, simple messages and bold, emotionally laden designs to inspire people on the home front to “Back our boys.”

A video supplement to the exhibit uses historic photographs to show the many ways Springfield stepped into the breach to support the war efforts. The photos were taken by Springfield Republican photographer John Farnum at the request of the Public Safety Committee of Springfield to document the activities of the many groups involved in helping the War effort in Springfield. They tell the patriotic story of this city’s response to the Great War.

A selection of posters on display are on loan from the Belchertown Historical Association.