“The Great War” in Posters

Summer 2014 marks 100 years since the start of World War I, also known as The Great War. Sparked by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria on June 28, 1914, the conflict escalated on July 28 when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Other nations soon followed Austria-Hungary and Serbia into war: Germany, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Luxembourg, France, Belgium and the United Kingdom were all involved by August 4.

British, French, French-Canadian, & Australian Posters

A fascinating predecessor to the modern infographic, this Public Warning from 1915 was issued to help the British public “familiarise themselves with the appearance of British and German Airships and Aeroplanes, so that they may not be alarmed by British aircraft, and may take shelter if German aircraft appear.” The first Zeppelin raid on Great Britian took place in January of 1915.
Savile Lumley, Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?, London, 1915. 
A.G.R., Canadiens Francais / Venez Avec Nous Dans le 150IÈME Bataillon C.M.R. was produced in Montreal in 1915, and was geared toward French-Canadian recruitment.
A French wartime poster promoting an art fundraiser to help Belgium.
Australian recruitment: Harry J. Weston, “Were You There Then?,” circa 1916.

USA Posters

The United States declared neutrality in early August 1914, and did not declare war on Germany until April 1917. Before the U.S. officially entered the war, private groups of concerned citizens and businessmen took it upon themselves to prepare America for the upcoming conflict. The foundation of the Mayor’s Committee on National Defense led to the establishment of similar organizations across the country. Their work was a combination of raising awareness and retooling American industry to handle the needs of war. 

Michael P. Whelan, Men Wanted for the Army, circa 1910. 

The scale of the First World War–and the development of new technologies–changed the very nature and representation of war and military service. Recruitment posters went from depicting a bucolic pastime, as in Michael P. Whelan’s Men Wanted for the Army, to patriotic messages geared largely toward an individual’s pride. 

Perhaps the most recognizable war poster of all time:
James Montgomery Flagg’s I Want You for U.S. Army, 1917.
Howard Chandler Christy, If You Want to Fight! Join the Marines, 1915.
James Montgomery Flagg created many WWI posters urging Americans to pitch in for the war effort. This 1917 poster employs a potent allegory of a country unaware of danger: Columbia peacefully sleeps while the flames and smoke of war can be seen coming up from behind.