World War II posters were produced in a variety of categories: recruitment, food and metal conservation, wartime transportation, espionage, war bonds, blood donations, factory output and general morale boosting. Many of the American artists who had illustrated posters for World War I – James Montgomery Flagg, Harrison Fisher, McClelland Barclay, Howard Chandler Christy and Norman Rockwell, to name a few – were also on hand for the titanic effort in the Second World War.
WW II American Recruiting Posters
The American war poster effort began in earnest following the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. American illustrators hit their canvases hard, producing a plethora of recruiting posters as the United States geared up for total war.
Some excellent recruiting posters include "Keep 'Em Flying! Air Crews Are Vital for Victory" (1942) picturing an air crew studying maps as several B-17 Flying Fortresses orbit overhead; "Be a Cadet Nurse" (1944) featuring a ravishing nurse in both dress and hospital uniform; "Ready, Join U.S. Marines" (1942) with a steely-eyed drill sergeant in dress blues awaiting another batch of recruits; and "Vacancies Exist! Enlist Now, U.S. Army" (1944) highlighting the Army's latest weaponry.
WW II Conservation, War Bonds, Espionage Posters
American war poster production emphasized the need to conserve and recycle vital war materials. One outstanding example comes from 1943 and is titled "The Grease You Save...Will Burn Off Hermann!," with Nazi air chief Hermann Goering on the receiving end of a wicked grease attack.
Another important poster theme is the American war bond, hawked with religious fervor throughout the war years. "Don't Let That Shadow Touch Them, Buy War Bonds" warns one poster from 1944 picturing three children slowly being encompassed by an ominous Nazi swastika.
Espionage is one of the glamour themes in WW II posters. A particularly famous example comes from famed magazine illustrator Stevan Dohanos and is titled "Award for Careless Talk." Released in 1944, this memorable poster features a sinister Nazi hand awarding the Iron Cross, First Class, to any American who spills secrets to the enemy.
Other classic espionage posters include such titles as "Loose Lips Might Sink Ships," "A Careless Word...Another Cross" and "Someone Talked!" The latter poster, executed in 1942, features the lone hand of a sailor/victim rising from the water and pointing accusingly at the viewer.
American Artists for Victory Campaign
Quite a few posters were generated for the American home front in 1942 when "Artists for Victory" kicked off an official war of words campaign against the Axis Powers. In all, "Artists for Victory" would produce 2,224 posters for the American war effort in a single year.
In late 1942, New York City's Museum of Modern Art held an exhibition featuring the "Artists for Victory" posters. Taking top honors in the competition was a poster titled "This Is Our Enemy," which features a crying child clutching the hand of his dead mother while a grim visage of Adolf Hitler looms in a flaming background.
WW II Foreign Posters
In addition to the United States, a number of other countries actively engaged in war poster production. They included Allied and Axis nations alike: Nazi Germany, Japan, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Soviet Union, Italy, Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands, Mexico, France, India, Poland, South Africa and the list goes on...
The German posters, not surprisingly, stressed unswerving loyalty to the Fatherland. Also greatly emphasized was duty to country, with strong Teutonic warrior graphics adorning many posters. The latter was especially true for recruiting posters from the elite Waffen SS. One outstanding example from 1943 was issued in Nazi-occupied Belgium in order to fill the ranks of the Edelweiss Division. It commands, "Fight Bolshevism! Enlist in the Walloon Legion" and features a brave Belgian volunteer with a demonic Russian soldier lurking in the background.
Not to be outdone was the Soviet Union, whose artists countered the Germans with posters of their own. One particularly memorable example comes from 1941 and is titled "Fires Obliterating Vile Fascist Entertain the Populace." Pictured is a German plane being shot down over Moscow while searchlights capture the hapless enemy crew tumbling to their deaths.
The British produced a number of outstanding posters. One of their best revolves around the espionage theme and features a soldier uttering careless words that literally turn into a piercing sword, skewering his comrades through the back.
World War II Poster Values
A poster's value is determined by several factors, including graphics, artist, rarity and condition. Check out these selling prices for WW II posters in near mint condition courtesy Meehan Military Posters, New York City.