Mobilizing America - Fighting WWI on the Homefront and Battlefront


World War I began in Europe in 1914, but the United States maintained a policy of neutrality through the presidential election of 1916. Woodrow Wilson’s successful reelection captured America’s isolationist stance in the campaign slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War.” However, several events in early 1917 led to an American declaration of war on April 6, 1917. In order to justify this reversal of policy, Wilson had to convince the public that war was unavoidable, patriotic, and moral. One week later he created the Committee on Public Information (CPI), an agency dedicated to winning American hearts and minds to the cause of war through modern methods of mass persuasion. It was headed by journalist George Creel, who after the war described the committee’s work as a “vast enterprise in salesmanship, the world’s greatest adventure in advertising.”

The Committee on Public Information called on all Americans to take active roles in the war effort through one of three means: to enlist, to conserve, and/or to invest. The posters in this exhibition focus on these messages and are similar to commercial advertising. Not included in this exhibition are the more lurid, propagandistic posters illustrating real and invented German atrocities that were used to explain “why we fight.” In an era before radio and television, the CPI wanted Americans to hear and see consistent messages repeated through all media: newspapers, newsreels, movies, public speakers, magazine ads, and posters. Disseminating the message visually in public spaces was particularly important because not everyone was literate. Producing visual media was the purview of the Division of Pictorial Publicity (DPP), under the leadership of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. The twenty million posters they distributed were instrumental in mobilizing Americans to support the war effort both on the battlefront and the homefront.


Graphic text 'Mobilizing America' blue type on white background.
Graphic poster of Uncle Sam image - a man in a white top hat, red bow tie, and blue jacket looking and pointing at the viewer with text 'I Want You'

I Want You, 1917. Artist James Montgomery Flagg

Poster image of a woman with flowing dress and long hair holding the US red, white and blue flag overhead with tools of soldiers in the background with text 'Fight or Buy Bonds'

Fight or Buy Bonds, 1917. Artist Howard Chandler Christy

Poster image of a woman wearing a Red Cross nurses uniform reaching out toward the viewer with a sympathetic expression.

Red Cross Nurse, 1917. Artist Harrison Fisher

Exhibition graphic in red, white , blue with text 'Mobilizing America - Fighting World War I on the Homefront and Battlefront

Exhibition graphic