Now and Then: American Propaganda and Protest Posters

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



Liberty & Justice:

Humanitarian Fundraising:

Jobs & the Economy:

Women Advertising & Rights:

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

Health Insurance:


Learn more about advertising design in this online design course, Principles of Advertising Design.

One thought on “Now and Then: American Propaganda and Protest Posters

  1. leking

    You showed some pretty decent posters here. But “today’s protest signs are sharper, meaner, funnier — and live on long after the rallies”…………………and are more vulgar, more hateful and many are way to offensive to have little children and seeing them and some loving caring mothers having their youngsters holding up signs with F-bombs and other curse words that children should just not be exposed to in such a way. Still, the kids will survive a bit of vulgarity. Nothing they haven’t heard, or won’t eventually hear, from their peers, on TV, etc.

    Based on data I searched for my book reports, I’d state the trickier part (and the reason I suspect some people howl “but what about the children?” when they see the signs, hats, etc.) is explaining the behavior some of the more vulgar signs (and the hats) are protesting. It’s pretty easy to explain why it’s bad behavior (illegal, disrespectful, violates the Golden Rule, etc., etc.), but considerably harder to explain why someone who publicly admitted to behaving that way is now POTUS.

    Btw, there’s a long history to this. Female abolitionists were castigated for talking about subjects that no decent woman, let alone a lady, would raise in public: e.g. the fact that masters raped their slaves. Sometimes you just gotta say what needs to be said. . .