President Wilson’s Committee on Public Information for promoting America’s role in World War 1 was headed by George Kreel, a Missouri newspaperman, who directed its 37 different divisions. One of these, “Pictoral Publicity,” produced more than 1,000 designs for posters, cartoons and sculptures that are left for us to ponder a century later.
A wide variety of artists worked on the posters, many of which are stunning examples of Art Nouveau. Hues of varying shade and intensity jump from the paper, advertising the draft, bond drives, rationing and victory gardens.
There are so many, I chose to look at some with children as their subjects. The colors used here are soft and happy. Messages are lighter than the rest: help Uncle Sam (whose image was just making its debut) win, ask your daddy to buy war bonds, or help our daddy “over there” by doing the same.
What can we learn from this artwork, emphemera of history? Certainly the design of these and more stark examples can be studied and even admired. But the real lesson is in their intent. Americans must do their duty. Americans must help. War is necessary for the good of all.
By using childish images to persuade adults, and making appeals to the youngest of audiences, did Creel cross the line?
The children of 1917 are gone. Their children are almost gone. The number and kinds of media which target today’s kids have exploded. It takes even more care now to protect young minds from things on which adults have trouble making up their own.
A grave task it is, educating others about the ploys of mass media.