During WWII, the government commissioned propaganda posters to teach American citizens and soldiers that careless speech could endanger national security. Any American with knowledge of troop movements, military equipment, or any other information that might prove useful to the enemy was encouraged to keep quiet. To remind all Americans of their duty, the Office of War Information (OWI) commissioned artists to create propaganda posters. The posters were hung in public places and widely reprinted. They used imagery that tugged at heartstrings, invoked fear, and appealed to a sense of patriotism. Fold3 has an archive of WWII propaganda posters found in our Boston Public Library collection. Here are a few of those propaganda posters and a little about the artists that created them.
Anton Otto Fischer was a native of Germany and an illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post. His seascapes attracted the attention of Russell Waesche, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, who credited Fischer with helping WWII recruitment efforts and immediately enlisted him as a lieutenant commander. Fischer created this poster showing wounded soldiers rowing away from a sinking ship to emphasize the importance of maintaining secrecy.
In this poster, artist Joseph Harry Anderson depicts grieving parents who have just learned of their son’s death as a result of careless talk. He intended to remind Americans that enemy agents were listening to conversations both at home and abroad. Anderson was best known for his Christian art commissioned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Families who lost a soldier during the war received the Gold Star Flag. In this poster, artist Wesley Heyman depicts a cocker spaniel resting on a scarf that once belonged to his master in front of a Gold Star Flag. His master’s death occurred because somebody inadvertently shared sensitive information. This poster struck a chord with many. It was reproduced millions of times, shattering the record for poster requests.
Stevan Dohanos created several “Don’t Talk” posters for the OWI. He is best known for his Saturday Evening Post covers and created this sinking ship poster and this puzzle piece poster to warn against unguarded speech. He worked for the Section of Painting and Sculpture of the U.S. Treasury Department and painted murals in several post offices.
John Philip Falter created many cover paintings for the Saturday Evening Post. He enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and used his artistic skills to design more than 300 recruitment posters, including a series for the women’s Navy (WAVES). He created this Navy poster and the Sailor Beware poster to warn Americans that loose lips could result in lost lives.
Albert Dorne was a highly successful commercial artist. Along with Norman Rockwell and several other illustrators, he founded the Famous Artists School. He created this image of a fierce rattlesnake with blood dripping from its fangs to convey the dangers of inadvertently divulging military secrets during the war.
Can careless speech imprison American soldiers? Artist Adolph Treidler wanted to convey that message in this poster of an American POW. This image is one of several propaganda posters Treidler created for both WWI and WWII. Among his work was a series of posters depicting women in the workplace and Women Ordnance Workers. He is also widely known for his images promoting tourism in Bermuda.