Posters have advertised many things, but the images and messages used for military recruitment - where loss of life is highly probable - are among the most powerful. Honor, patriotism, guilt, fear, pretty girls, foreign travel, adventure, and bravado were (and still are) used to entice young men into enlistment stations. Almost every kind of psychological pathway to a signature on the dotted line has been explored - with the fear and guilt of accusations of cowardice being perhaps the strongest.
The two most iconic wartime recruitment posters involve powerful pointing figures and were issued in World War I - Britain's Lord Kitchener "Wants You" (designed by Alfred Leete) and America's Uncle Sam "I Want You for US Army" (designed by James Montgomery Flagg). It's striking to see how often pointing is used in these posters although eyes turned towards the heavens and Lady Liberty also make frequent appearances. Thousands of posters in varying styles were issued in WWI alone, by all participating nations, although few have survived.
Among the famous names involved in military recruitment was American illustrator Howard Chandler Christy, who became known for producing patriotic "Christy Girl" posters for the US Navy and Marine Corps in World War I. "Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man, I'd Join the Navy," is one of his most famous works.
The military were not the only ones to use posters during wartime. There are many examples of posters targeting women and civilians. The Red Cross and numerous home-front organisations in the United States and Britain used powerful posters to recruit manpower and also woman-power. This selection of wartime posters below includes recruitment for inventors, the Land Army, nurses, YWCA and the timber industry. These posters document a key moment in the history of women's rights as governments were forced to ask females to do jobs previously restricted to males.
Posters were a particularly important method of communication during World War I as newspapers were the only other means of mass communication at the time. By World War II, radio was widely used. One of the best ways to learn more is to read The Poster in History by Max Gallo - a beautiful but highly informative book stretching from the storming of the Bastille to 1990s advertising campaigns.