Category Archives: Recruiting and Advertising

Drawing in Recruits: Posters and Broadsides


Tonight, as I was finishing up some research for one of my genealogy projects, I found myself clicking through a series of online auction listings of militaria that would look absolutely fantastic hanging on the walls of my “war room.” My mind began to wander with each page view, imagining the various patriotic renderings, designed to inspire the 1940s youth to rush to their local recruiter to almost single-handedly take on the powers of the Axis nations.

Originally created for Ladies Weekly in 1916, the iconic image of Uncle Sam was incorporated into what is probably the single, most popular recruiting poster that began its run during WWI (source: Library of Congress).

Originally created for Ladies Weekly in 1916, the iconic image of Uncle Sam was incorporated into what is probably the single, most popular recruiting poster that began its run during WWI (source: Library of Congress).

Rather than focusing on the raging war in Europe, this Charles Ruttan-designed poster demonstrates the career and travel opportunities.

Rather than focusing on the raging war in Europe, this Charles Ruttan-designed poster demonstrates the career and travel opportunities.

Recruiting posters are some of the most collected items of militaria as their imagery conjures incredible emotional responses, such as intense national sentiment, inflamed hatred of the new-found enemy or a sense of call of duty. The colorful imagery of these posters inspires considerable interest from a wide range of collectors, in some cases driving prices well into four-digit realms.

Most Americans are familiar with the iconic imagery of Uncle Sam’s “I Want YOU for the U.S. Army” that was created and used in the poster by James Montgomery Flagg, making its first appearance in 1916, prior to the United States’ entry into World War I. While this poster is arguably the most recognizable recruiting poster, it was clearly not the first. Determining the first American use of recruiting posters, one need not look any further than the Revolutionary war with the use of broadsides, one of the most common media formats of the time.

The use of broadsides, some with a smattering of artwork, continued to be utilized well into (and beyond) the Civil War with both the Army and Navy seeking volunteers to fill their ranks. With the advancement of printing technology and the ability to incorporate full color, the artwork began to improve, adding a new twist to the posters, providing considerable visual appeal. By the turn of  the twentieth century, well-known artists were commissioned to provide designs that would evoke the response to the geopolitical and military needs of the day.

Adding to the appeal for many non-militaria collectors is artist cache associated with many of the recruiting poster source illustrations. The military brought in the “big guns” of the advertising industry’s graphic design, tapping into the reservoir of well-known artists; if their names weren’t known, their stylings had permeated into pop culture by way of ephemera and other print media advertising. In addition to James Flagg, some of the most significant (i.e. most sought-after and most valuable) Navy recruiting posters were designed by notable artists such as:

Sadly, with my limited budget and my unwillingness to horse-trade any of my collection, these posters are somewhat out of my reach. It goes without saying that condition and age along with desirability have direct impact on value and selling prices. Some of the most desirable posters of World War II can sell for as much as $1,500-$2,000. For the collector with deeper pockets, Civil War broadsides can be had for $4,500-$6,000 when they become available. I have yet to locate any of the recruiting ephemera from the Revolutionary War, so I wouldn’t begin to speculate the price ranges should a piece come to market.

The citizens of a small Indiana town (Vincennes) raised enough money through a successful bond drive to meet the Secretary of the Navy's financial requirement which resulted in the already under construction light cruiser (CL-64) to be named Vincennes.

The citizens of a small Indiana town (Vincennes) raised enough money through a successful bond drive to meet the Secretary of the Navy’s financial requirement which resulted in the already under construction light cruiser (CL-64) to be named Vincennes.

Discouraged as I may be in my quest to secure one of these treasured prints, I may be better off seeking quality reproductions to adorn the vertical white-space of my war room.  However, a few years ago I received a reproduced war-bond drive  poster – the original was created to encourage Hoosiers to buy bonds to name a new cruiser to honor the (then) recently sunk USS Vincennes.

Note: All images not sourced are provided courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command

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