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Belligerents and Participants
George Creel’s Committee on Public Information created the Division of Pictorial Publicity on April 22, 1917, that was to be run by the popular illustrator Charles Dana Gibson of Gibson Girl fame. He recruited over 300 artists and cartoonists to help design everything from postcards to billboards in the propaganda war. Their mission was to put America in the frame of mind to enlist in the armed forces, buy war bonds, and except personal sacrifice even when it meant the loss of a loved one. While some of this was promoted by exploiting natural patriotic tendencies, much of this work was hate driven, which also had the effect of stirring up ethnic fears and violence within the United States. A great array of illustrators were assembled to drive this message home; these included George Bellows, Kenyon Cox, Howard Chandler Christy, Arthur G. Dove, Harvey Dunn, Harrison Fisher, James Montgomery Flagg, William Glackens, Joseph Leyendecker, F. Luis Mora, Herbert Paus, Edward Penfield, Joseph Pennell, Frank E. Schhoonover, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Albert Sterner, H. Giles, N.C. Wyeth, and Ellsworth Young.
By the time the Division of Pictorial Publicity closed in November 1918, about seven hundred posters had been designed, many of which were turned into postcards. Since they were designed for propaganda, these poster images was readily shared with other Allied nations. A number of American designs van be found wholly reproduced on cards with French or Japanese backs. Many of these designs have since become iconic and they continue to be reproduced on modern continental sized cards. While many modern day poster-styled postcards are based an authentic vintage images, there is no guarantee that the originals were ever published as postcards in their own time.
Charles Dana Gibson also recommended eight artists to the War Department to serve as war artists alongside the American Expeditionary Force. Harvey Dunn, Ernest Peixotto, George Harding, J. Andreé Smith, Harry Townsend, Wallace Morgan, William Aylward, and Walter Duncan were given the commission of captains in the Corps of Engineers and then sent to Neufchateau in France. Once there they were allowed to travel freely throughout the American zone and paint whatever caught their eye. Approximately eight hundred works were produced.
Howard Chandler Christy began his career by providing illustrations for magazines, eventually becoming a correspondent in Cuba during the Spanish American War for Scribner’s and Leslie’s Weekly. By 1906 he was a regular contributor to books, calendars, and other important magazines that featured his portrayals of the independent American woman, referred to as Christy’s Girls. When the United States entered the First World War, Christy produced a number of outstanding patriotic posters for the Division of Pictorial Publicity to encourage enlistment and the purchase of war bonds.
The American Colortype Co. in Chicago was a publisher of books and postcards of views, greetings, expositions, and military subjects. During World War One they used stock photography from Brown Brothers to depict various branches of the U.S. military on their cards. These cards had extensive narratives on their backs that spoke to true evaluations of the service rather than propaganda.
The Bolshevik revolution in Russia led to greater fear of Socialists back home in America. The backlash led to the formation of Red-baiting groups like the American Legion, founded by former members of General Pershing’s staff led by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. They promoted allegiance to the state as well as veterans rights. Postcards were published to further their aims such as a fine set of artist drawn cards depicting the 1919 victory parade produced for the American Legion by Yvon of Paris nine years after it took place. The remembrance and gratitude was still strong at this late date, though the solemnness of similar events was quickly eroding.
Philip Boileau was a French Canadian who settled down in the United States. He did a wide variety of illustration work that included postcards, most notably for Reinthal & Newman. His glamorous depictions of women and children, sometimes with sentimental overtones, made him one of the most popular illustrators in the United States; and the Boileau Girl came to typify the American Woman. In the years preceding America’s entry into World War One his images took on a more apprehensive tone, and these were widely printed and distributed in England. Boileau died of pneumonia in Queens, New York before the United States declared war.
William Haskell Coffin was an illustrator best known for his images of women. He used these same skills while designing propaganda posters for the Division of Pictorial Publicity during World War one.
Americans saw some of the heaviest fighting in the war but this is not well represented on postcards. Their relatively short participation in the conflict may account for more of this than public taste. Many black & white cards such at the War Postal Series produced by the Chicago Daily News or those by H.H. Stratton typically used the photo supply house of Underwood & Underwood as their source for censor passed imagery.
The Detroit Publishing Company was the sole American company to license the Swiss photochrom process (Aac), which they would eventually register under the name Phostint in 1907. They produced cards on a great variety of subjects, and some consider their quality to be the finest made in America. During World War One they published a series of military cards based on government approved photographs. They largely depict naval vessels and the training of army troops. While well printed they fail to capture the dynamic spirit of the times. Perhaps this type of publishing was so out of place for a company that was used to carefully editing its own material.
Walter Hunt Everett’s style evolved out of the Brandywine School as a student of Howard Pyle. His numerous illustrations that found there way into some of America’s best known magazines made him a very popular and sought after artist. He was recruited in World War One to produce propaganda posters that were also turned into postcards. It is easier to find his work today as modern reproductions of his posters than on postcards that date from the war years.
James Montgomery Flagg began contributing illustrations to magazines from the age of twelve, and by the First World War he was one of the most sought after artists in America. He designed forty-six propaganda posters during the War years, the most famous being, I Want YOU for U.S. Army made for the Division of Pictorial Publicity. Some of these were published as postcards at that time but the most popular are now reprinted on modern continental cards.
Although Archie Gunn was born in England and studied art in London, he moved to New York City in 1889 to provide illustrations for newspapers and magazines. He would go on to place his images on everything from calendars to chocolate boxes. Gunn also designed a good number of postcards with military themes during the First World War for the Illustrated Postal Card & Novelty Company. While most of these cards seem to deal with the same romantic subjects he was fond of before the War, others just capture lighter moments of military life.
The publisher William Randolph Hearst founded the International News Service in 1906 not only to gather news for his papers but to sell this information to other outlets. This news agency eventually began supplying pictures as well, and it became a source of many official images for the press and for postcard publishers during World War One. A controversy erupted at the beginning of the conflict when Hearst gave the British bad press, and he was in turn barred from using Allied telegraph lines for gathering news. Undeterred, the agency began rewriting stories reported by his competitor, the Associated Press that led to a lawsuit. The international News Agency lost the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared that infringing on lead time protection was an unfair business practice even when just reporting facts.
Martinson Tiffany in New York published real photo postcards covering a wide variety of military subjects, but they all seem to have been produced in 1919. Their high contrast printing provides them with dramatic effect but also deprives them of detail. The source material for most of these cards is both German and French, which may mean they are based on reproductions of photographs already available on the open market.
Although N. Moser worked as a photographer for the U.S. Navy, little is known of him. He photographed numerous naval and aviation scenes during the War years, many of which he published as real photo postcards. Along with more conventional views, many of these images display the high drama of storms or the tragic results of the U-boat war.
The newspaperman, Edmund Osborne moved to New Jersey around the turn of the 20th century where he set up a printing firm. The Osborne Company became well known for their calendars before Edmund’s death in 1916. The company continued on producing novelty items and postcards. A number of military related cards were produced during the Great War from photographs provided by Brown Brothers of New York, the first stock photo agency. They are in the same format as cards made by the Daily Mail from official British war photographs. These cards typically had a long narrative on one side of the back while the other side carried an advertisement. Since the United States had not yet entered the Great War, many of these cards praise the efficiency of the German army.
Herbert Paus began working as a cartoonist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper at the age of sixteen. He quickly moved on to the Binner Engraving Company in Chicago, and then to New York where he became a freelance magazine illustrator in 1902. During World War One he designed a wide variety of posters for many governmental agencies as part of the Division of Pictorial Publicity. His bold style brought him much attention, and became highly sought after for commercial work. Paus would illustrate many covers for Collier’s magazine, which reported heavily on War news.
Charities such as the American Red Cross also published postcards specifically for American soldiers fighting in France. These cards tend to be very simple, displaying patriotic themes over battle scenes. Before the United States entered the War, the German Red Cross was also active in America, soliciting funds through the sale of postcards.
Although the Salvation Army only had a few hundred workers accompanying the Americans in France, Their work there gave the organization much status. There they set up canteens known as hutments where they gave concerts, held bible classes, and sold food from which their dispensing of doughnuts became famous. It is difficult to tell whether the doughnut or the young women serving them turned the most heads of homesick soldiers, but both were represented on postcards published by the Salvation Army. Some of these aid workers also became subject matter for French publishers. In addition to depicting their canteens, the Salvation Army also published artist drawn propaganda cards to raise funds for their organization.
As the American Expeditionary Force began to arrive in Europe, they acquired the nickname of Sammies (derived from Uncle Sam) from British and French newsmen. General Pershing hated this name and pushed American newspapers to adopt the name Doughboys. This term had already been informally used for some time, though its origins are a bit confused. Some claim the name came out of the Philippines where American soldiers covered in white dust kicked up from the roads looked as if they were made from dough. While the reasoning is plausible, the term seems to date all the way back to the War with Mexico. What is certain is that the nickname Doughboy has nothing to do with their propensity for eating doughnuts, which was popularized during the Great War.)
John Singer Sargent, an acclaimed portrait painter of high society, was commissioned by the British Ministry of Information to paint a large scale piece for the planned Hall of Remembrance. Sargent arrived on the Western Front in July to make first hand sketches of the fighting at Arras and Ypres. While this resulted in the famous painting titled Gassed, many other works were also created at this time. It is difficult to say if postcard publishers would have used this work had it been finished before the War was over, but it now appears on cards as art reproductions.
The Signal Corp is a branch of the United States Army that is assigned the role of providing communications for the purpose of command and control. They had also documented the Armies activities through photography since the late 19th century, and now in the Great War it would be one of their assigned functions. Special schools in photography were opened up at Columbia University in New York City, and by Eastman Kodak in Rochester; and their graduates formed a Photographic Section in July 1917. Each division had a photographer and a motion-picture operator assigned to it. While tens of thousands of photographs were taken, the Army severely restricted their distribution. Some of these images can be found on real photo postcards published by Photo Repro in New York. They can usually be quickly identified by their lengthy captions on their image side. Through the use of these narratives even the most nondescript picture could be turned into a propaganda message. Unfortunately the caption often does not relate well to the image on the card. These cards tend to be more matter of fact than propaganda, but they still give the impression of Allied progress.
The Army controlled all photography taken on the front lines, and various civilian agencies operating in proximity such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the YMCA were dependent on the Signal Corp when photographs were needed. Many of these private groups provided postcards for the troops that documented their own activities.
During World War One the British publisher, Raphael Tuck & Sons produced a set of cards illustrated by Harry Payne entitled, The United States Army. Many of these cards depict Americans engaged in fierce fighting. Despite their generic nature they are perhaps the most dramatic scenes depicting Americans in combat that were produced during the conflict.
The Fourth U.S. Engineers published a book while stationed in Germany entitled, Columbia to the Rhine, in which they chronicle their departure from Oregon in 1917 to their occupation of the Rhineland in 1919. The book was written and illustrated by the men of the regiment, and a number of its sketchy illustrations were placed on postcards for publicity.
The Valentine-Souvenir Company of New York was formed by the merger of the Leighton & Valentine Company with the Souvenir Post Card Company around 1914. They published a fair number of military related postcards of army bases and naval yards in the United States. Some of these are presented with generic captions to get the approval of wartime sensors. Generic cards could also be marketed to a wider audience. Many of the images they published came from stock photos that were provided by Underwood & Underwood, who began supplying news photos for newspapers and postcard publishers in 1910.
The War Correspondence Association (W.C.A.) of London and New York also published many American made cards early in the War based on photographs supplied by Underwood & Underwood. These mostly capture mundane scenes from behind the front lines. Those cards that insinuate combat situations by their titles and lengthy backside narratives are somewhat suspect regarding their accuracy.
Lawrence Nelson Wilbur’s early career as an illustrator led him to design propaganda posters during World War One, which were also placed on postcards. Some of these were used specifically for regimental cards. He returned to creating propaganda posters during World War Two.
An unusual patriotic postcard set from an unknown publisher depicts recruitment parades, soldiers training at camp, and even farmers bringing in an abundant harvest to feed the troops. While there are quite a number on anonymous cards, this set is unique in that it presents American scenes but all the captions are in Italian. While these may have been made in Italy, they have the look of cards printed in the United States. America had a huge immigrant population in these years and many official posters and postcards preyed on their sense of loyalty; to give back to the nation that gave them a home. Italians made up a large proportion of these immigrants, and many did not yet speak English. This set may have been targeted towards them.