The Bonds of Liberty: a World War I Liberty Loan Poster

The following is a guest post by Jonathan Eaker, Reference Librarian, Prints & Photographs Division.

When the second rotation of the exhibit, “World War I: American Artists View the Great War,” opened with a new set of objects from Prints & Photographs Division collections, one striking poster jumped out at me. It shows a pair of boots dripping with blood and emblazoned with the German eagle, and has the text “Keep these off the U.S.A” in large bold letters. Though possibly too graphic for some, it’s certainly eye catching and serves as a powerful piece of propaganda.

Keep these off the U.S.A. - Buy more Liberty Bonds. Poster by John Norton, 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50013

Keep these off the U.S.A. – Buy more Liberty Bonds. Poster by John Norton, 1918. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.50013

The poster was intended to be dramatic in order to encourage the American public to continue to support the war financially by buying liberty bonds. It suggests that buying liberty bonds will keep the Germans from invading the United States. In reality there was virtually no chance the Germans were going to invade the U.S. They had their hands full fighting in Europe, and their ships were unable to get past Great Britain. As with much war propaganda, however, the poster’s power lay partly in how successfully it tapped into the public’s biggest fears–an enemy at the doorstep is certainly a more tangible threat than one across the ocean. My colleague, looking at the pattern of red on the boots, wondered if it was meant to represent a map, perhaps suggesting territorial conquest. What do you think?

The artist who designed the poster, John Warner Norton, had some experience with war; a couple of decades earlier he trained as a soldier with Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War.

Norton’s design was one of many that advertised liberty bonds during World War I. Here are two that took quite a different approach to persuasion.

Ring it again Buy U.S. Gov't Bonds, Third Liberty Loan. Poster by Sackett & Wilhelms Corp., N.Y. 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g08886

Ring it again Buy U.S. Gov’t Bonds, Third Liberty Loan. Poster by Sackett & Wilhelms Corp., N.Y. 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g08886

My daddy bought me a government bond of the Third Liberty Loan--Did yours? Poster by The United States Printing & Lithograph Co., New York, 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g09574

My daddy bought me a government bond of the Third Liberty Loan–Did yours? Poster by The United States Printing & Lithograph Co., New York, 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g09574

The public had an opportunity to see liberty bond posters on building exteriors and city streets, as shown in the photographs below. The booth selling bonds in the first photo features both the “Keep these off the U.S.A.” boots poster as well as another poster advertising the Fourth Liberty Loan in the Prints and Photographs Division’s collections.

Senators buying liberty bonds. Photo, copyrighted 1918. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c07151

Senators buying liberty bonds. Photo, copyrighted 1918. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c07151

Elise Robert & Dorothy Kohn. Photo by Bain News Service, 1917 Oct. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.25395

Elise Robert & Dorothy Kohn. Photo by Bain News Service, 1917 Oct. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.25395

Liberty Loans, 2nd Loan; Posters. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.09714

Liberty Loans, 2nd Loan; Posters. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.09714

The “Keep These Off the U.S.A.” poster was part of the Fourth Liberty Loan drive, which ran from September 28th, 1918 to October 19th, 1918. Whether because of the power of the poster or for other reasons, the loan drive was successful in raising funds, even at that late stage of the war and with a different kind of threat looming: a flu epidemic.

You can see this poster, along with many other items from the Prints & Photographs Division, on display in “World War I: American Artists View the Great War” through August 19th and online. Starting on April 4th,  visitors will have an opportunity to see to see a wonderful range of materials relating to the war in the new exhibit, “Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I,” which will display objects from across the Library of Congress collections (for more information, see the exhibition press release).

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