Infographics Master of Arts in History

History of American Propaganda Posters: American Social Issues through Propaganda

Leaders throughout history have been able to use propaganda to their own needs and desires. By stirring an individual’s imagination and emotions whether it is for better or worse, figures in power who create campaigns of propaganda imagery can drive a population towards their end wants. Propaganda became a common term around America during World War I when posters and films were leveraged against enemies to rally troop enlistment and garner the public opinion. Propaganda became a modern political tool engendering good will across wide demographics and gaining favor of the country.

The following infographic, created by Norwich University’s Online Master of Arts in History Program, takes a closer look at American Social Issues expressed through Propaganda imagery.

Infographic of American propaganda posters.

What is Propaganda?

Propaganda can be described as thoughts, ideas, allegations or facts, spread deliberately to further one’s own cause or with the intention of causing damage to an opposing cause. Propaganda is commonly understood to involve any medium that strikes an illicit emotional reaction to one’s thoughts or views. It is a form of biased communication that is expressed through forms of art that do not always depict one set of thoughts in a clear way. A way to clearly stir the emotions of a populace and drive a one-sided opinion, propaganda has been a tool for the powerful to convince and push the less powerful towards a purpose.

The History of Propaganda

Although the term propaganda became common place in the United States during period of World War I, the concept has been used long since then. Some of the first to use propaganda for their own accords were the Greeks. Though the Greeks did not use propaganda as we know it now in print or movie depictions, they still used art to project their thoughts onto groups. Greeks could influence large groups of citizens and country men to their ways of thought through games, theater, assemblies, courts, and religious festivals.

After the invention of the printing press, leaders could now spread their ideas to the masses much more quickly. Philip II of Spain and Queen Elizabeth of England both used printed and written materials to organize their subjects during the Spanish Armada in the 16th century. To convince each individual nation that the other was at the aggressor, the leaders each participated in their own propaganda campaigns to distribute widespread dissent.

Newspapers during the Mexican American War sometimes took it upon themselves to influence articles and create articles that called for annexation of all Mexico by the United States. In some populations areas that were still controlled by Mexico, some U.S. writers would write or edit papers with the purpose of convincing the residents that the U.S. terms for peace should be accepted and that it was their best choice.

American Social and Political Issues Depicted Through Propaganda

America has been using propaganda in art for over a hundred years to drive the population towards a common thought. Often the premise dispensed by the government is centered toward an idea of Americanism or pride for the country over others. However, opposition for anyone in power had the same opportunity to use these same tactics through the wide distribution of newspapers and printing machines.

The Pyramid of the Capitalist System
Created in 1911, The Pyramid of the Capitalist System, this cartoon directly criticized the worst parts of capitalism. As an American cartoon published, distributed and seen by many of those who were not on the top of the hierarchical capitalistic food chain, it brought to light a social issue that many were afraid to express before.

Liberty Loan Drive
Promoting the purchase of war bonds during World War I was very important for the U.S. to keep the war machine driving forward and funded. The Liberty bond driving needing a boast and public attention used an ad that inspired people to purchase bonds. The ad was successful in driving funding and raised more than $17 billion.

Help Keep Your School All-American
While the United States has bene a mixing pot, the issue of racism has been difficult to address. The poster, Help Keep Your School All-American, featuring Superman, one of the most popular figures with school children at the time of the ad spoke to changing a prevalently racist outlook of America at the time.

Women in the War
This poster meant to drive women into the armed service. By featuring a woman working directly with a wartime device, it helped to inspire a feeling of comfortability with women serving at home and abroad.

We Can Do It
Nearly everyone is familiar with “Rosie the Riverter”, but probably not everyone is familiar with her as a propaganda peace to inspire the U.S. wartime workforce. The posters produced of her were pivotal in swinging public opinion that a woman could work in a factory and outside the house to drive the wartime machine production. From 1940 to 1945 the percentage of female U.S. workforce increased from 27 percent to 37 percent.

Daisy Girl
Political campaign propaganda took a strong foothold during the middle of the 19th century. At a time when nearly everyone feared nuclear warfare, Lyndon B. Johnson played off this fear and created campaigns against his opposition’s controversial comments. Though the political ad, Daisy Girl, only aired once it was still instrumental in playing on the fears of the people to swing their opinion.

Go Tell Mama! I’m For Obama
Even in present day terms America is using propaganda to stir emotion and convince others of our thinking. Artist Ray Noland emphasized the idea of community in his Go Tell Mama! I’m For Obama, playing on the ideas and sentiments of a largely community organization that needed grassroots marketing to spread advertising.

Add This Infographic to Your Site