Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Illustration by James Montgomery Flagg (1917)

Uncle Sam is one of the most familiar and enduring symbols of America. The illustration that people know best was created by artist James Montgomery Flagg in 1917, as a recruitment tool for the Army during World War I and reused during World War II.

Patriotic-sounding artist James Montgomery Flagg photographed by Arnold Genthe

The origins of Uncle Sam are a little fuzzy, and the closest anyone has been able to determine is that the character was based on a meatpacker from Troy, NY called Samuel Wilson (1766 – 1858). Wilson supplied rations to the American soldiers during the War of 1812.

Uncle Sam Wilson

Continue reading

The word propaganda is considered to be negative: it suggests lying, exaggeration, and manipulation. But if propaganda can be defined as spreading information to support a cause, then it could be a good thing.

Almost every country and organization uses some kind of propaganda. The U.S. began to use domestic propaganda in an organized way during World War One. Generally speaking, the goal was to use patriotism to gain support for the war. More specifically, the government wanted soldiers to enlist, and for the civilian population to conserve food and buy war bonds.

You might recognize this very famous image that was introduced on the July 6, 1916 issue of Leslie’s Weekly, nine months before the United States entered the Great War:

Library of Congress


Propaganda in art is typically done to elicit an emotional response, as this poster does:


While the image of a motherly woman imploring you to save food does elicit a warm emotion, negative emotions can be useful propaganda, too. This 1918 image features a huge gorilla wading out of the water, onto American shores. In the distance, Europe lies in ruins. The gorilla is wearing a pickelhaube (that’s the spiked helmet Germans wore during World War One). He is carrying an unconscious woman, and carrying a bloody club labelled Kultur.

Library of Congress

Continue reading