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World War II Propaganda Posters, Explained

Updated April 8, 2020 152.3k views19 items

Propaganda posters played a huge role in World War II, providing morale-boosting messages, instilling the need for silence and secrecy, and bringing home the importance of what each soldier and worker did. When the conflict began, most nations saw the need to engage the entire population. Rationing was introduced, industries were nationalized, and companies that made products with no relevance to the conflict were converted into armament plants.

WWII posters and WWII propaganda were vital to conveying how important it was that everyone pull together and that any slacking, selfishness, or gossip could have disastrous consequences. There was also a need to dehumanize the enemy, making it okay for people to make weapons that killed and destroyed - because they would do the same to Americans and the Allies if they weren't stopped. These posters and signs depicted World War II battles, imagery, and themes as well.

The Allied embrace of total war gave the US and Britain an edge in arms production over Germany, which was counting on World War II being a short and victorious conflict, and whose civilian population sacrificed little. When Nazi Germany finally did convert over to total war in 1943, they were already years behind - in part, thanks to the propaganda efforts of their foes.

Here is a selection of WWII propaganda posters from the major nations in World War II, and what they were used for.

  • Uncle Sam Wants YOU

    Maybe the most famous recruitment poster in American history, J.M. Flagg designed the famous picture of Uncle Sam in 1917, based on a poster of British high-ranking officer Lord Kitchener. Flagg used his own face as the model for Uncle Sam and veteran Walter Botts sat for the pose.

    It made the war a personal crusade, denoting that the US doesn't want someone else to fight, it wants YOU to fight.

  • Loose Lips Sink Ships

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    One of the most important facets of fighting the war at home was secrecy. This poster, designed by Seymour Goff for workers at Seagram Distillery, was typical of the fear-based campaign designed to keep people from accidentally blabbing about naval movements.

    Most other countries had campaigns like this as well, with German posters exclaiming "Schäm Dich, Schwätzer!" ("Shame on you, blabbermouth!").

  • Do With Less

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Rationing was a part of daily life in the Allied countries, and the civilian population had to pull together and be okay with having less.

    This poster (which has since become a popular internet meme) reminds citizens that they're going without the luxury of coffee so the people at the front can have it.

  • We Can Do It!

    Photo: J. Howard Miller / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    J. Howard Miller designed this inspirational poster in 1942 as a morale booster for Westinghouse Electric employees. It was one of many forms of propaganda telling women workers to do their part to make the equipment needed for men at the front. The poster wasn't used much in the war and was only rediscovered in the 1980s.

    Known as "Rosie the Riveter," the woman depicted is most likely factory employee Geraldine Hoff, who left the Westinghouse factory shortly after the photo was taken.