Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

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A poster with the headline North Dakota in World War. Other text on the poster is Official War Pictures of State Troops at Ft. Lincoln and in France - See Your Boy March by on the Screen. There is also a headshot of a man in uniform who is labeled as Col. John R Fraine.

This undated North Dakota Council of Defense poster advertised “official war pictures of state troops at Ft. Lincoln and in France.” SHSND SA 10935-P0217

This April marks the 104th anniversary of the United States’ 1917 entry into World War I. While the commemoration of that conflict’s centenary is already part of history, it does not mean that interest in World War I has ceased, as researchers still request materials on the conflict or attempt to find out about ancestors who served in the war.

One of the State Archives’ unique collections features hundreds of WWI posters. This collection contains 921 posters, including some from overseas, which were collected during the final two years of the war by Melvin Gilmore, curator of the State Historical Society of North Dakota from 1916–1923. The posters fall into a number of distinct thematic categories, including recruiting efforts, Liberty Loan campaigns, wartime propaganda, supply drives, and patriotic appeals. The poster styles vary from simple textual or artistic designs to poignant illustrative works of art. Given that print media was the dominant form of information dissemination at that time, these posters represent an important link to the past. Many of these posters are digitized and viewable on our Photobook site.

Each branch of the U.S. armed forces during the war created posters to entice young men and women into service. While women’s opportunities to serve were limited compared to today, efforts were made to reach them as well. Nursing was one avenue by which women were recruited into the war effort. In addition, imagery of women was used in some recruiting posters, portraying them often in the role of helpless victim or appealing to the perceived protective impulses of young men.

Army poster that reads the following: Just a Minute. U. S. Army offers excellent opportunities for men enlisting now. Choose your branch of service - all branches open. Infantry, cavalry, field artillery, coast artillery, engineer corps, quartermaster corps, medical dept., motor transport corps, air service, tank corps, signal corps. Enlistments are for 1 and 3 years. Men with former service may enlist for 1 year, others 3 years. No Reserve. Men between ages 18 and 40 wanted. European service available if desired. Apply Army Recuiting Station, Hatz Block, Aberdeen, South Dakota, or Sioud Falls, S. D., Lead, S.D., Fargo, N. D., Grand Forks, N. D., Minot N. D. Open days, nights, and Sundays.

A U.S. Army poster listing service opportunities and recruiting stations in North and South Dakota. SHSND SA 10935-P0064

The first poster has an American bald eagle fighting with a large black bird with airplanes around it and reads Join the Army Air Service be an American Eable! Consult your local draft board, read the illustrated booklet at any recruiting office, or write to the chief signal officer of the army, Washington D.C. The second poster has two soldiers, one standing with binoculars, and the other crouching by him, with an airplane above them and reads Join the Air Service and SErve in France. Do it now.

This U.S. Army Air Service recruiting poster, left, drew on visceral imagery of an American bald eagle attacking a “German” eagle to promote enlistment. At right, a poster aimed at bolstering the U.S. presence in France. SHSND SA 10935-P0189, SHSND SA 10935-P0305

A soldier stands in uniform with gun in hand up by his shoulder. Behind him is an American Flag. The poster reads First in the Fight - Always Faithful - Be a U.S. Marine! Apply at 24 East 23rd Street, New York City

The heroic U.S. Marine was front and center in this poster designed by James Montgomery Flagg, creator of the iconic “I want YOU” recruiting poster. SHSND SA 10935-P0346

A woman in a Navy Uniform stands next to text reading Gee!! I wish I were a Man. I'd Join the Navy. Below that test reads Be a Man and do it United States Navy Recruiting Station.

One of the most famous images from the era, this Navy recruiting poster played on traditional notions of masculinity, using an image of an attractive young woman in a sailor’s uniform to goad men to join up. SHSND SA 10935-P0277

Poster with a nurse sketched in the middle of it. Above her reads Wanted 25000 Student Nurses. Below her reads U.S. Student Nurse Reserve. Enroll at the nearest recruiting station of the Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense.

It wasn’t just soldiers who were in demand—the nation also needed nurses to tend to the wounded as evidenced by this U.S. Student Nurse Reserve recruiting poster targeted at women. SHSND SA 10935-P0028

In addition to the armed forces, service organizations actively tried to acquire new members to aid in their war-related efforts. These groups included such organizations as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the U.S. Boys’ Working Reserve, which aimed to offset war-related labor shortages and provide farm labor to help increase agricultural production. Many of these organizations’ campaigns appealed to the patriotism of Americans, as evidenced in this pair of posters below.

The first poster has two soldiers in full cear with one saluting as the other walks out of a hut. Above them are silhouets of other soldiers in the distance. The poster reads The Salvation Army - Help them to help our Boys. The second poster reads Boys! Serve Your Country on the Farms. Join the U.S. Boys' Working Reserve. U.S. Department of Labor. Apply. Earn a Badge of Honor. Behind the text is an image of a man working in a field with two horses pulling a till that he is holding onto.

Left: SHSND SA 10935-P0554
Right: SHSND SA 10935-P0071

Several posters in the collection also urged the purchase of Liberty Loans and Victory Loans. These programs were bond issues by the Treasury Department meant to encourage those Americans not off fighting in the war to invest in the country’s success by buying government bonds, which funded the war effort. Such posters featured explicit visual appeals to Americans’ sense of patriotism and justice, drawing on imagery of suffering women and children to pull at the heart strings. Most were quite artistic, though some were simple in style.

The first poster shows a woming holding a baby with another young child pulling at her wait. The poster reads Must Children Die and Mothers Plead in Vain? Buy More Liberty Bonds. The second poster shows a person wearing what looks like an American Flag toga, holding a gold shield with an eagle emplem, and wearing a crown. In fron t of the person is a young boy down on one knee in a Boy Scout uniform holding a sword. The poster reads USA Bonds. Third Liberty Loan Campaign. Boy Scouts of America. Weapons for Liberty.

Left: SHSND SA 10935-P0001
Right: SHSND SA 10935-P0022

Poster with a thick blue border followed by a thinner white boarder surrounding a red background with a blue letter V outlined in blue

The visuals may have been simple but there was no missing the overarching message of this striking 1919 poster advertising Victory Liberty Loans, the final bond drive of the war. SHSND SA 10935-P0209

In addition to the loan drive posters, several in the collection speak to the prevalence of wartime propaganda intended to mobilize support for the Allied cause or stoke fear of the enemy. Germans were portrayed in starkly negative ways, with some posters warning of the dangers of loose lips. Our collection also comprises foreign language posters including some in Czech and French.

Two of the same poster are shown, one in English and the other in French. They show two men, one in a German military uniform holding a torch in one hand and a blood knife in the other, and the other man is in a business suit holding a hat in one hand and a briefcase in the other. The poster reads Remember! This hun who bombed, burned and pillaged and this commercial travaller who calls for your orders wants to sell his wares and wants to settle once more in our midst are one and the same man never forget it! When the war is over we shall make it our business to let you know what is Made in Germany

French and English versions of this poster played on stereotypes of German barbarism to discourage consumers from buying German-made products after the war. SHSND SA 10935-P0773

As the war neared its end, the world was gripped by the Spanish flu pandemic so some of the posters in the collection also relate to the global health crisis and government efforts to deal with it. This event exacerbated the suffering of many nations, which had already lost so much in people, property, and goods during the Great War.

Poster that reads the following. Treasury Department, United States Public Health Service. Influenza - Spread by droplets sprayed from nose and throat. Cover each cough and sneeze with handkerchief. Spread by contact. Avoid crowds. If possible, walk to work. Do not spit on floor or sidewalk. Do not use common drinking cups and common towels. Avoid excessive fatigue. If taken ill, go to bed and send for a doctor. The above applies also to colds, bronchitis, pheumonia and tuberculosis. F. R. Smyth, Assistant Surgeon, United States Public Health Service, Bismarck, N.D.

This U.S. Public Health Service poster urged Americans to take precautions in the fight against the Spanish flu pandemic. SHSND SA 10935-P0200

As you can see, the World War I poster collection is a fascinating set of print media from a bygone era, offering a glimpse into the artistry and messaging surrounding a historic world event. You can browse the digitized images of these items on our Photobook site from home, or when you are researching in the reading room during our open hours.