World War I (1914-1918) featured the use of posters as a means of communication on a mass scale never seen before. The medium was employed extensively by both sides, the Allied Powers and the Central Powers, for many of the same purposes during the war.
The war posters often used stark or dramatic imagery that gave them a powerful visual and psychological impact, important in conveying a message. Posters were used to encourage enlistment and to promote support for the war effort. Often referred to as propaganda posters, the medium was also used to manipulate public opinion. Posters were effective in promoting a cause or in damaging an opposing cause. They helped galvanize public opinion, enhance morale, warn of the evils and dangers of an enemy, encourage shared sacrifice, and promote the productivity of labor in support of the war effort.
Posters often portrayed the enemy as brutal, sadistic and inhumane, while emphasizing the strength, morality and heroism of one’s own side. The changing role of women is also reflected in the World War I posters. Although traditional roles are still depicted, women also appear in uniform and performing war production work.
During the war, approximately 3,000 different poster designs were created and mass produced in the United States alone. The U.S. Office of Public Information had a Division of Pictorial Publicity, organized and headed by Charles Dana Gibson, best known for his earlier "Gibson Girl” illustrations. Gibson brought together a group of talented artists and illustrators to design posters for various federal and private agencies. Like Gibson, these artists wanted to lend their talents and experience to help win the war. The U.S. Navy also had a similar group working on poster designs.