During the war, these posters captivated viewers and compelled citizens to take action. Every major combatant nation—and many smaller countries—created them. But not until recently could the Library’s visual materials collection illustrate a more global sampling of propaganda art from World War I.
Thanks to generous support from Huntington Overseer Jay T. Last, we have strengthened our holdings by acquiring 39 significant works, many of which fill international gaps in our World War I poster collection. The list includes posters from Austria-Hungary, Cuba, Germany, Italy, Scotland, and Wales. We also added U.S.-related posters that appealed to immigrants from Czechoslovakia and Greece in their native languages. One especially unusual work targeted citizens from China who worked in the Philippines, then an American colony. Why a veteran of World War I passionately collected these posters adds to their rich history.In 1915, Brooklyn-born Edward H. McCrahon showed his colors for the Allied cause by joining the French Army as an ambulance driver. When America declared war against Germany in 1917, McCrahon was released from service so that he could enlist in the U.S. Army, in which he rose to the rank of colonel.
McCrahon never forgot his rousing reaction to the war posters he first saw while stationed in France. He quickly amassed more than 2,000 international examples by the mid-1930s, receiving accolades in newspapers and magazines for having the most extensive collection of its kind. Public recognition continued to grow as McCrahon exhibited his collection widely at American schools, libraries, galleries, universities, and veterans’ organizations. Each venue highlighted the posters as a touring memorial to all who had participated or perished in the war.One fascinating aspect of these newly acquired posters: the variety of languages they employed to convince civilians to join up, buy in, help the needy, and wave the flag. Such linguistic diversity reminds us how global this conflict really was, engaging more than 100 nations across six continents. At the same time, these posters help to illustrate how ethnically diverse a country like the United States was during the early 1900s, when its government printed huge quantities of propaganda in many languages, including Spanish, Russian, Hungarian, Yiddish, Italian, Polish, and Slovak. This outpouring appealed to immigrant communities in cities like Boston, Chicago, and New York.
With the addition of these 39 posters, The Huntington is becoming a leading repository for early 20th-century propaganda art. Our growing archive of approximately 750 works now represents a more complete picture of a global war fought not only by soldiers on the battlefield and civilians on the home front, but also by the artists who designed these unforgettable posters.
Related content on Verso:
The Posters to End All Wars (July 28, 2014)
David Mihaly is the Jay T. Last Curator of Graphic Arts and Social History at The Huntington.