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Home Front: What You Can Do!

From sheep to sugar, from car pools to cottage cheese - the posters in this exhibit reflected what Americans were hearing and seeing as a nation worked together to win.

During World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945), both government and private enterprise used posters to connect work being done in American factories with supplies and equipment being used by the military. After the periods of isolationism that preceded each war, factory owners sought to charge workers with a sense of mission, hoping to increase productivity and avert costly labor strikes. And as men left for service overseas, many positions were being filled by workers new to those industries, particularly women.

Posters were also used to express views on how citizens should conserve resources that were needed overseas. War Gardens (or Victory Gardens) were among the more visible activities, but even changing the clocks for daylight savings time or choosing corn over wheat for dinner could be said to help the war effort. With over 16 million Americans in uniform during World War II alone, these posters formed a powerful emotional appeal, particularly for those with a friend or family member fighting overseas.

  • Because of the increased demand for goods during World War II, labor relations were a major issue in domestic politics.

  • After five months in the hospital and his discharge, Obie Bartlett trained as a welder—a transition covered by newspapers throughout the country under the headline, “Pearl Harbor Victim Is Getting Revenge.”

  • Propaganda posters reminded workers that whatever issues they faced in the factories, United States servicemen were facing harsher conditions in defense of the country.

  • President Woodrow Wilson created the Federal Fuel Administration to control the price of coal in order to ensure that the United States would not face a serious wartime shortage.

  • Everyone, including small children, was asked to conserve supplies and make substitutions

  • Since the interstate highway system didn’t exist until after World War II, railways were the nation’s main transportation system during World War I and World War II.

  • Because most soldiers wore uniforms made of wool, the government encouraged rural Americans to raise more sheep during World War I and agricultural clubs promoted that national goal.

  • This poster is an example of the popular “Rosie the Riveter” propaganda theme, one that was popularized in a 1942 song as well as by Norman Rockwell’s famous painting on the cover of the May 29, 1943, Saturday Evening Post.

  • Because injuries contributed to labor shortages, this poster reminds workers to use care and pay attention to safety on the job to avoid down-time and manufacturing line stoppages.

  • During World War II, gas rationing led many people to join car clubs, which offered workers lower cost transportation and conserved valuable gasoline for the war effort.

  • The early twentieth century saw the arrival of waves of new Americans who preferred to live in ethnic neighborhoods, so this poster was printed in several languages.

  • As a heartier crop with a larger per acre yield than wheat, corn became the United States’ answer to a possible nationwide food shortage

  • Americans were asked to curb their consumption of items such as meat, wheat, and sugar, so products which were easier and cheaper to produce like corn and cottage cheese were promoted as alternatives.

  • Both Civil Defense and the Red Cross offered classes and resources on first aid during World War II.

  • Destroyer Escorts were specifically designed to hunt the Axis submarines which harassed vessels in an attempt to disrupt supply lines.

  • McClelland Barclay created a number of works for the war effort during World War II for the United States Navy’s Recruiting Office before the LST he was serving on was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.

  • Distributed in civilian and military publications, the poem on this poster served as an anthem to remind workers of the United States about the soldiers whose lives depended upon their efforts.

  • Although the United States government was hesitant to continue rationing, conservation was still encouraged in order to assist war-torn countries after World War II.

  • Production companies were not the only ones to profit from the war effort and World War II saw the birth of many employer-funded benefits like health insurance.

  • War (or victory) gardens were planted on the home front for both World War I and World War II.