30 iconic posters from World War II
30 iconic posters from World War II
Propaganda can be a powerful weapon, capable of arousing passions, unifying communities, stirring up fear, or changing minds in ways no bullet or bomb can do. During World War II, Allied and Axis forces used propaganda posters to spread their messages around the world.
Stacker searched Getty Archives to find 30 iconic posters from World War II that highlight their power and enduring style. They hail from the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Vichy France. Some of the posters fueled patriotism, faith in the nation, and a belief in the righteousness of the war effort to protect national values and virtues.
Many aimed to boost morale and deliver a message of shared sacrifice. Duty meant scraping together money to invest in a United States war bond or digging a victory garden to feed the family. Every citizen had a job to do.
War could be glorified, with posters showing might and muscle as well as confidence and courage. Soldiers were handsome and fearless, guns were sturdy, and legions of airplanes overhead were formidable. But many were dark reminders of battlefield losses, sinister images of a lurking enemy, or the perils of careless talk or a slit of light breaching a blackout. Some reached out to particular audiences such as women, encouraging them to step out and test out new roles. Those invitations to change would mark the dawn of modern feminism. More than a few had messages that are familiar and popular today, whether they are calls to conserve fuel, travel lightly, or grow food locally on rooftops and in empty lots.
Propaganda posters from all sides were an extraordinary art form that used basic colors and simple words to reach the broadest audience.
The icons survive. Uncle Sam and Rosie the Riveter are still employed today. The works remain stirring and powerful, even as we may hope the brutality and cruelty of such a war remain a thing of the past.
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‘Buy More War Bonds and Stamps’
In this poster, circa 1942, a powerful fist punches through the image of a swastika, urging Americans to “buy more war bonds and stamps.” The United States issued war bonds and stamps to help finance the war effort.
‘We’re Building Things Up!’
‘I Want You’
One of the most lasting and iconic symbols of U.S. patriotism is Uncle Sam, clad in red, white, and blue with piercing eyes and a pointing finger in this recruitment poster. James Montgomery Flagg, a magazine illustrator, used himself as the model. First produced in World War I, the poster was adapted for use in World War II.
‘Keep Calm and Carry On’
The slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On” was printed on posters by the British government to be distributed in the event of a German invasion. As that did not happen, the poster was never officially used in public, and following the war, copies were believed to have been destroyed in the National Salvage Campaign recycling effort. Decades later, a handful of the posters were found. Today, the saying is the basis of popular memes, from humorous to political.
‘Come into the Factories’
‘Adolf Hitler ist der Sieg!’
This German poster of the Nazi leader posed behind a chair declares, “Adolf Hitler is victory.” The portrait was created by German artist Rudolf Gerhard Zill.
Japanese air force poster
Japanese war propaganda posters sought to glorify the nation’s military might. This poster of the Imperial Air Force shows countless airplanes flying over a globe decorated with Japan’s historic sun symbols.
‘Avenge Pearl Harbor’
‘Defend Your Country’
Uncle Sam is rolling up his sleeves, flexing his muscles, and clenching his fist in this U.S. Army “Defend Your Country” recruitment poster. Simple and bright, it presents a sense of confidence and strength.
‘We Can Do It’
Rosie the Riveter, declaring “We can do it!” in this poster, is one of the most recognizable U.S. icons to emerge from World War II. Yet the poster was only displayed for two weeks in Westinghouse factories. It was decades later when modern-day feminism emerged that the image enjoyed widespread popularity, showing that women could perform jobs traditionally held by men.
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‘Is YOUR Trip Necessary?’
The “Is YOUR Trip Necessary?” poster of the bright-eyed, eager faces of troops gathered in front of a train was used by the U.S. government’s Office of Defense Transportation to remind civilians that the railroad was needed in the war effort. By 1943, the government restricted leisure use of automobiles and busses to conserve fuel and rubber, leaving just trains for traveling long distances. Commercial artist Montgomery Melbourne, who made the image, is credited with designing advertising images for Kool cigarettes, Morton Salt, and Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum.
‘Keep Us Flying!’
‘This is Nazi Brutality’
The U.S. poster “This is Nazi Brutality,” showing a hooded prisoner in chains, tells the story of the Czech village of Lidice, where all the men were shot and the women and children sent to camps in retaliation for the assassination of SS officer Reinhard Heydrich. Initial German intelligence indicated the villagers had helped the resistance, but eventually, there was no evidence they were involved. The poster was created by Lithuanian-born American artist Ben Shahn, known for his portrayals of social and political topics.
This German poster reads, “Der Feind sieht dein Licht—Verdunkeln!” or “The enemy sees your light—blackout!” The dark and threatening imagery shows a skeleton flinging a bomb from an airplane, with lit windows in a building below. Allied forces bombed Germany from 1941 to 1945, and German citizens were asked to cover their windows at night to make targets difficult for bombers to find. The poster was designed by German propaganda artist Otto Sander-Herweg.
‘Meeting over Berlin’
Celebrating the alliance of the Soviet Union and Great Britain, pilots from each nation shake hands from their cockpits as they drop bombs over Berlin in this “Meeting over Berlin” propaganda poster that declares, “This handshake will not be healthy for the Germans.”
The poster was created by Kukryniksy, the name used by three artists—Porfirii Nikitich Krylov, Mikhail Vasil’evich Kupriianov, and Nikolai Aleksandrovich Sokolov—who collaborated for many years on cartoons, book illustrations, and poster designs. Their work was widely published and honored by the Soviet government.
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‘UNITED we are strong’
Glorifying the power of Allied forces, flags from each of the Allied nations are wrapped around the powerful cannons in the poster expressing, “United we are strong. United we will win.” Artist Henry Koerner fled Nazi persecution of the Jews and immigrated to the United States from Vienna in 1938. He returned to Europe as a U.S. soldier and learned that his family had been deported and died.
‘Become a Nurse’
The “Become a Nurse” poster was produced by the U.S. Public Health Service to encourage women to become military nurses. The nation had a shortage of nurses during the war, and in 1943, Congress established the Cadet Nurse Corps. Almost 120,000 women trained with the Corps and served in military hospitals and other facilities.
‘They Give Blood’
This German and Vichy French propaganda poster urged citizens to join the Service du Travail Obligatoire (STO) or Compulsory Work Service. It depicts lines of workers filing into factories under the image of a helmeted soldier and the words: “They give blood, give your work to save Europe from Bolshevism.” The STO required workers in collaborationist France to provide two years of service, and they were put to work in Germany, France, Austria, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.
‘Doing all you can, brother?’
A handsome blond, blue-eyed soldier, his head wrapped in a bloody bandage, asks, “Doing all you can, brother?” in this U.S. government poster advertising war bonds. During World War II, Americans bought more than $185 billion worth of war bonds that came in denominations as small as $25, were sold at a discount, and matured in 10 years. Commercial illustrator Robert Sloan was commissioned by the government to create the poster and given a Citation for Distinguished Service for the work.
‘Of Course I Can!’
A bright-eyed young woman in a kitchen apron clutches jars of preserves and vegetables as she declares, “Of course I can. I’m as patriotic as can be—and ration points won’t worry me!” Her cheerful face was part of the government’s War Food Administration campaign that encouraged Americans to can food to cope with shortages and rationing. Artist Dick Williams was a commercial illustrator whose work appeared in newspaper and magazine advertising.
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‘Don’t Let That Shadow Touch Them’
The ominous shadow of a Nazi swastika darkens this poster of three children playing with a doll, a toy airplane, and a makeshift American flag. The depiction of their innocence was used in the exhortation to help fund the war effort by purchasing war bonds, with the message: “Don’t let that shadow touch them.” Creator Lawrence Beall Smith served as a combat artist who traveled on U.S. military aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean and witnessed the D-Day landings in Normandy, France, in 1944.
‘Ecco i Liberatori’
In this Italian poster, America’s Statue of Liberty, with the face of a grinning skull, presides over destroyed buildings in flames. The phrase “Ecco i Liberatori!” or “Here are the liberators!” was a comment on the barbarity of U.S. forces by the Italian government.
This German recruitment poster portrays a helmeted soldier in profile, staring into the distance, with the words “Waffen-SS” and “Eintritt Nach Vollendetem 17 Lebensjahr,” meaning recruits must be at least 17 years old. The Waffen-SS was the military arm of the feared SS elite security force in Nazi Germany and included Adolf Hitler’s bodyguards and battalions that ran concentration camps.
‘Buy War Bonds’
Looking more like a watercolor painting than propaganda, the “Buy War Bonds” poster shows a flag-bearing Uncle Sam in the clouds, directing troops brandishing bayonets. The godly image conveys a sense of the divine virtue of the Allied effort against Axis forces.
‘She’s a WOW’
American illustrator Adolph Treidler created several posters during World War II celebrating Women Ordnance Workers (WOWs), who made military materials such as weapons and munitions. The motivational poster shows a beautiful woman tackling a traditionally male job with the line, “She’s a WOW.”
‘When You Ride Alone, You Ride with Hitler!’
‘He’s Watching You’
The menacing eyes of a helmeted enemy soldier dominate this U.S. government poster that reads, “He’s watching you,” cautioning Americans that spies could lurk anywhere. A survey of the public by the government’s Office of Facts and Figures in 1942 determined many viewers misinterpreted the poster, with some mistaking the German helmet for the Liberty Bell. The Office of War Information was created later that year to oversee poster production and control messaging.
‘Food Is a Weapon’
The U.S. Office of War Information’s “Food is a Weapon” poster was part of a campaign to trim food waste amid shortages and rationing. The admonition to “eat it all” also reminded Americans of the need to stay healthy and strong as the war raged.
‘Plant a Victory Garden’
“Plant a Victory Garden” shows a soldier and a gardener chatting over a white picket fence with the words “I see we’re fighting the war together.” Americans grew their own vegetables and fruits in victory gardens as commercial crops and transportation were taken up by the war effort, and food rationing was imposed. The victory garden campaign was employed to remind Americans they could pitch in and show patriotism in their own yard. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden of her own on the lawn of the White House.
‘Freedom Shall Prevail’
The “Freedom Shall Prevail” poster shows uniformed soldiers from Allied countries, their flags forming a “V” for victory. The poster reminds viewers of the far-flung members of the Allied front, such as New Zealand, Southern Rhodesia, and South Africa. It was a creation of William Little, an artist commissioned by Great Britain’s Ministry of Information during World War II.
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