Famous propaganda posters from the last 100 years
Propaganda is defined as thoughts, ideas, or facts that are disseminated in order to further a cause or movement—or hinder an opposing one. The history of propaganda is rich, dating all the way back to the 15th century. However, it didn’t become mainstream, at least in the U.S., until 1914 at the start of World War I.
A couple of propaganda posters that have really stuck to the wall include the image of the woman commonly mistaken for Rosie the Riveter, which came out in the 40s but later took on a feminist connotation, and the iconic image of Che Guevara that has been associated with so many famous protests. These posters have stood the test of time and remain woven into our society, some of them more than 100 years after their initial creation.
Stacker has highlighted 50 famous propaganda posters associated with major wars and political movements throughout history, including those from different countries and time periods. Read on to see the origins of Uncle Sam, and where the phrase “loose lips sink ships” came from.
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I Want You for U.S. Army
This American poster widely regarded as the most famous poster in the world, although it was inspired by a British poster bearing a similar slogan. It made its debut on the cover of the publication Leslie’s Weekly in 1916, depicting “Uncle Sam” urging Americans to enlist in the army as America entered WWI.
Rosie the Riveter
This poster of former President Obama is largely associated with his 2008 election campaign, and also exists in different versions with words like “Change” and “Progress” beneath the same image. It has been the subject of legal controversy when it was revealed that its creator, Shepard Fairey, was accused of usurping the image of Obama from a former Associated Press photographer. Nonetheless, the poster is entwined with Obama’s campaign message at the time.
We Can Do It
This iconic poster from 1943—often confused with the original Rosie the Riveter—made quite a splash in the U.S., but not necessarily during WWII. Though widely associated with the feminist movement, its original intention was to improve morale for the female employees of Westinghouse Electric. It resurfaced in the early 1980s, at which point it gained popularity and acquired its woman-power connotation.
Destroy this Mad Brute, Enlist
Printed in 1918, this WWI-era image depicts German militarism embodied by a ferocious gorilla standing on the ground (labeled “America”) carrying a bloodied club as well as a young woman. The poster served as another call for American men to fight in the war.
Alberto Korda took this iconic photo-turned poster of Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara in 1960. The image gained substantial cultural traction by the end of the 60s when Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick used it to create a poster. It first appeared in the U.S. in 1968 on New York City billboards and has come to symbolize rebellion on a large scale. The image title means “Heroic Guerilla Fighter.”
One of the most popular symbols of the British Suffragette Movement, this poster depicts a woman struggling to get by in a rowboat, while a man sails smoothly in his sailboat—symbolizing women’s struggle to achieve the right to vote.
Britons Wants You: Join Your Country's Army
This poster featuring British war minister Lord Kitchener—pointing for the sake of military recruitment—served as the inspiration for the American version, which reads “I want you for the U.S. Army.” It was first printed for the cover of the London Opinion magazine in 1914, but came out as a poster shortly after. However, there isn’t much photographic evidence of it having been hung up in public.
Daddy, What did You do in the Great War?
Britain’s army was relatively small at the start of WWI because there was no mandatory enlistment, so the Parliamentary Recruitment Committee was in charge of recruiting the general public to join the army. This was one of their more famous posters, created around 1914 to 1915. The obligation for men to earn money to support their families dissuaded many of them from volunteering, but the PRC used that angle to suggest that children would think that their father’s duty in the army was a more noble calling.
It was not uncommon for Nazi propaganda posters to incorporate the likeness of the monster, which typically symbolized nationalities and philosophical beliefs that deviated from Nazi ideology. This particular poster depicts a monster that represents different aspects of American culture as a whole through its different body parts—one arm holds a money bag, symbolizing greed, and a KKK hood on its head represents nationalism and extremism.2018 All rights reserved.