All countries have their own style when it comes to military recruitment posters, and even within one country, the style will change drastically depending on the specific branch looking for volunteers. Here are some interesting examples of military recruitment posters from World War I.
This poster was designed to bring a sense of shame to those who weren’t fighting.
While every other poster I found was vertical, the decision to shape this one like an arm was pretty perfect considering the message.
While this would be a great way to recruit D&D fans these days, at the time the knight and dragon image was selected to remind viewers of the story of
Sir Gawain St. George and the dragon.
Scotland & Ireland
While the United Kingdom may be united in title, the country is most certainly not all one culture, which is why the powers-that-be had to make posters oriented specifically towards Scotland and Ireland as well. This design by Lawson Wood is pretty subtle other than the fact that the soldier is wearing the Scottish military dress and the fact that the caption includes a bit of slang.
The Irish were even harder to recruit into the war given all the political turmoil going on in their own land at the time. In fact, while the World War was going on, there were rebellions breaking out throughout Ireland, and as soon as the major international war ended, the Irish War of Independence broke out. That’s why recruiters hoping to get Irishmen to enlist into the war couldn’t just ask them to support their king & country like they asked the Scottish. Asking for revenge for the German attack on the passenger ship was a good way to encourage the Irish to fight without asking them to fight for the kingdom.
This poster doesn't bother striking up national pride, guilt or benefits to potential troops; essentially, all it says is “We promised to help England -- can you help? No big deal if you can’t.”
One of the best ways to recruit people into a war if they don’t otherwise care about the cause is to show them what they could get out of it. This Canadian ad promises to help improve the skills of artisans and mechanics, thus, hopefully, ensuring them better employment after the war.
Wondering what the recruitment posters looked like on the other side of the battle lines? Well, they are strikingly darker. In fact, maybe it’s just because I can’t read German, but I think I’d be less likely to sign up after seeing a creepy, ghostly poster like this one, designed by Julius Ussy Engelhard.
This poster, created by Lucien Zabel, isn’t quite as horrifying as the other, but I still don’t think it would have me running to a recruitment office to sign up.
While America’s recruitment efforts usually focus on specific branches, there are still a few designs just urging people to get out there and fight. This one is particularly powerful as it shows Uncle Sam standing over a seemingly violated Lady Liberty telling the viewer “It's up to you. Protect the nation's honor.”
It’s interesting to see the contrast of the frail, weeping Lady Liberty in that first U.S.A. poster up against Kenyon Cox’s image of a strong, powerful woman bearing a sword. She’s certainly more awe-inspiring like this, isn’t she?
There’s something incredibly familiar about this Navy recruitment poster. Is it possible that Dr. Strangelove borrowed the idea for their climax from this Richard Fayerweather Babcock image?
The pin-up girl poster was designed by Howard Chandler Christy.
To be fair, this poster, by James Henry Daugherty, was released just after the war, but it’s hard to leave out of this collection when it has such fantastic artwork and a classic message inspiring people to see the world by joining the Navy.
Of course, the Army isn’t the only branch that recruits soldiers by promising to show them the world. Here is the Marines' version of the same concept. Interestingly, this poster was released in 1917, so it was pretty darn unlikely that any of the recruits inspired by this artwork by James Montgomery Flagg actually saw any cheetahs, at least not until the war was officially over.
The Marines have always put bravery over all else, so while many people might be put off by the idea of being the first to fight, those aren’t the people this ad, by Sidney H. Riesenberg, was targeting anyway.
The power of this poster, designed by I. B. Hazelton, is its simplicity. All you need to know is that men are needed for the Army and that you can help, beyond that, the wonderful artwork speaks for itself.
August William Hutaf’s design for the Tank Corps is truly fantastic. My only question: is the cat terrified because the Tank Corps roughed him up or is he angry because he is symbolizing the roughness of the Tank Corps?
Canada hoped to recruit artisans and mechanics, and the U.S. needed them as well. Only rather than going after people who already were familiar with the trade, this recruiting poster promised to train anyone interested to become a mechanic -- offering them a great opportunity to land a job in a booming industry when they returned home.
WWI was the first war to incorporate planes. In the U.S., soldiers involved in this division were part of Army’s Air Service, which eventually became the U.S. Air Force after the war ended. With posters featuring great artwork like this design by Charles Livingston Bull, and the opportunity to learn to be a pilot at the beginning of the aviation industry, it’s easy to imagine that the Air Service had a lot of recruits, even if it was incredibly dangerous.
The National Guard was fairly new during WWI. In fact, over 40% of the U.S. soldiers in France during WWI were in the National Guard.
[All images courtesy of the Library of Congress. For more World War I history, start following Erik Sass' WWI Centennial series, covering the events leading up to the war exactly 100 years after they happened.]