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Utah’s World War I Posters

Keep Him Free by Charles Livingston Bull, artist, Philadelphia: Ketterlinus, 1917

By Charles Livingston Bull, Philadelphia: Ketterlinus, 1917

In April 1917, soon after the United States’ entry into the First World War, President Woodrow Wilson created the Committee on Public Information (CPI). George Creel headed the CPI which existed to unify public opinion in favor of the war and help sell bonds financing its cost.

The CPI issued movie reels, newspaper and magazine articles, pamphlets, exhibits, and short speeches, but found its most effective national media approach to be posters. The country’s top advertising illustrators created some 700 posters, which used simple, emotional imagery and messages to sell the war effort. The CPI distributed the posters throughout the states – the equivalent today of a series of memes gone viral – and the intended cultural impact succeeded.

Meanwhile, Utah and its citizens answered the nation’s call to support the war effort in multiple ways. Thousands of young men enlisted in the military, Utahns purchased millions of dollars of Liberty Bonds, and the production of vital metals and agricultural goods was increased to meet the growing demands of a nation at war.

The Works Progress Administration gathered this collection of original World War I posters in Utah in the 1930s. Through them, we can experience how an “advertising” campaign was used to stir feelings of patriotism, and engage Utahns in the larger national effort.

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