It was not always thus. When America entered World War I in 1917, the bloodiest battle the world had ever known had been staining the fields of Europe for three years, and it was clear that engagement in the conflict would require great sacrifice—by the troops, in materiel, and on the home front. To assist in the propaganda effort to build support for the war, illustrated posters inspiring public support served as a primary mechanism of mass communication. These were the brainchild of celebrated illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, who chaired the Committee on Public Information’s Division of Pictorial Publicity. Gibson enlisted the greatest illustrators of his day, including J. C. Leyendecker, Joseph Pennell, James Montgomery Flagg, and Howard Chandler Christy to craft compelling visuals that would inspire the populace to support the troops and buy bonds to finance the war. (Back in the day, the government had to borrow directly from its citizens to fund military campaigns.)
“Over the Top: American Posters from World War I” will be exhibited at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, through January 25. (413) 298-4100; www.nrm.org.