Now and Then: American Propaganda and Protest Posters

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As a history nerd, I simply cannot resist going down the rabbit hole of the history behind great design. I found myself studying advertising design in HOW U’s online course, which discusses the history of advertising during the World War I era—which in turn piqued my interest. I decided to dig further into this era of advertising. One thing struck me during my research: Propaganda ads and protest art from a hundred years ago portray the same themes that we still see in today’s political climate.

In this week’s Print design education post, I will take a look at some world war one advertisements, particularly those themed on similar issues that we face today. What can we learn from the past advertisements and the public’s rallying cries from a century ago? That is a question I will leave you to answer. For now, let’s look at the graphic design of that era dealing with these issues.

For modern time posters, I grabbed protest poster designs from this article by Ellen Shapiro. I located vintage propaganda art and ads, and a few protest signs, from the Library of Congress website to create a contrast and compare of now and then. While these posters do not fully reflectthe sentiments of the times, they do provide glimpses into our American ancestors and their values. While common themes exist between then and now, the messages and tones contrast significantly. Let’s see how things have changed in the past century.

Below, we examine the artwork from 100 years ago and compare it to current designs based on the following issues: Nationalism, Immigration, Liberty and Justice, Humanitarian Fundraising, Jobs & the Economy, Women’s Advertising & Rights, and Health Insurance. Please feel free to share your thoughts and/or research in the comment section below.

A Century Later: American Propaganda Art and Posters


Title: Forward America! / Carroll Kelly 1917 ; Wright Henry Worth Inc. Creator(s): Kelly, Carroll, artist Date Created/Published: 1917. Medium: 1 print (poster) : lithograph, color ; 57 x 39 cm. Summary: Poster showing a figure of Columbia, brandishing an American flag and a shield, riding an eagle as she leads a large squadron of airplanes.

Title: Wake up America Day – April 19, 1917 / James Montgomery Flagg. Creator(s): Flagg, James Montgomery, 1877-1960, artist Date Created/Published: 1917. Medium: 1 print (poster) : lithograph, color ; 101 x 67.7 cm. Summary: Poster showing a woman, possibly Jean Earl Moehle (Möhle), dressed as Paul Revere carrying lantern and American flag. Moehle reenacted Paul Revere’s ride for the Wake Up America Patriot’s Day celebration in New York City. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2015 and The New York Times, April 19, 1917)


Title: Remember your first thrill of American liberty Your duty – Buy United States government bonds–2nd Liberty Loan of 1917 / / Sackett & Wilhelms Corp. N.Y. Creator(s): United States. Department of the Treasury, funder/sponsor Date Created/Published: 1917.

Liberty & Justice:

Title: Liberty, freed, humanity’s need! / Alex. O. Levy. Creator(s): Levy, Alexander Oscar, 1881-1934, artist Date Created/Published: 1918. Medium: 1 print (poster) : lithograph, color. Summary: Allegory showing the figure of Liberty, arms outspread with broken chains hanging from her wrists, gathering children to her sides.

Title: That liberty shall not perish from the earth – Buy liberty bonds Fourth Liberty Loan / / Ioseph Pennell del. ; Heywood Strasser & Voigt Litho. Co. N.Y., imp. Creator(s): Pennell, Joseph, 1857-1926, artist Date Created/Published: [1918] Medium: 1 print (poster) : lithograph, color ; 104.2 x 71.6 cm. Summary: Poster showing the Statue of Liberty in ruins, and the New York skyline in flames.

Women Advertising & Rights:

View more protest signs from the Women’s March here.

TRUMP INTERNATIONAL HOTEL – COLUMBUS CIRCLE, NEW YORK, NY, UNITED STATES – 2017/01/15: Hundreds of activists and allies from the newly-formed anti-Trump group Rise & Resist staged a peaceful protest at Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York City, to fight against the radical changes to the American healthcare system proposed by the Trump Administration and Republicans. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Title: Hold on to Uncle Sam’s insurance, the strongest, safest and cheapest insurance in the world – Keep it up after you are back in civil life / James Montgomery Flagg ; Forbes Boston. Creator(s): Flagg, James Montgomery, 1877-1960, artist Date Created/Published: 1918.

CPAC attending helps herself to a free “Repeal ObamaCare” at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor MD on March 14, 2013. (Photo by Jeff Malet) (Newscom TagID: jmpphotos015623.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

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