“Meet an American soldier of production. … His uniform is a pair of overalls and a welder’s mask. Not reveille, but a battered alarm clock awakens him six days a week at 6 a.m. There are no service stripes on those welder’s sleeves he wears but his part in the winning of this war is as important as any front-line soldier’s.” (From original caption for photo below.)
Like thousands of others across the United States during World War II, welder George Woolslayer knew that he was part of the battle. In the Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corporation plant outside Pittsburgh, Pa., war production was increasing because the creation of aircraft, tanks, ships, weapons and more were crucial to the war effort overseas. One day in October 1941, a photographer from the Office for Emergency Management (OEM), Alfred T. Palmer, came to document the increased production that supported the national defense program. Palmer snapped roughly 80 images during his visit, including portraits of Woolslayer.
Imagine Woolslayer’s surprise when a poster bearing his likeness began to appear around the plant—and around the country. Issued by OEM on November 18, 1941, the poster showed three men integral to the U.S. defense programs: a soldier, a sailor and a steel worker, along with a simple message: Men Working Together. An OEM designer had chosen Woolslayer’s face from thousands of others to represent the men of war production. To represent the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy, the designer selected a photo of Corporal French L. Vineyard (taken in May 1941 by OEM photographer Marion Post Wolcott) and of John Marshall Evans, Radioman, First Class (taken by Palmer).
Woolslayer’s curiosity prompted him to send a letter to the OEM in February 1942. By that time, the U.S. had been attacked at Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces and entered World War II. Woolslayer concludes:
“I want to tell you that it makes me quite proud to be part of a war poster. Can you let me have the name of the soldier and sailor in the poster. I feel I’d like to know them and would like to write to them.”
The newly created Office of War Information arranged for furloughs for the soldier and the sailor to visit the plant. Photographer Palmer returned to Allegheny Ludlum Steel, this time to document the visit of Evans and Vineyard to meet Woolslayer. The visiting military men were taken on an extended tour by a proud Woolslayer, seeing with their own eyes how the work that provided ships and aircraft and munitions was done. Later, the men gathered to visit Evan and Vineyard at their posts. These previously anonymous men became familiar faces nationwide as their poster was featured in magazines and newspapers and hung in factories and mills.
This story of a poster coming to life is told through dozens of photographs in the collections of the Prints and Photographs Division, taken over the course of fifteen months from May 1941 to August 1942. A search in the poster collection turned up the original poster as well, completing this story in full color.
- Watch the poster come together in this slideshow.
- Enjoy the full photo essay “A poster comes to life”
- See the portraits of French Vineyard by Marion Post Wolcott
- See the portraits of John Marshall Evans by Alfred Palmer
- Explore World War II in photographs, posters, cartoons and more within the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog
Sources & Bibliography:
Bird, William L, and Harry R. Rubenstein. Design for Victory: World War II Posters on the American Home Front. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998.
Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information. “Written Records of the Farm Security Administration, Historical Section–Office of War Information, Overseas Picture Division, Washington Section Collection,” Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Call number: LOT 12024 (M), Reel 19.
Nelson, Derek. The Posters That Won the War. Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1991.
“The Poster that Came to Life.” Liberty 19 (Sept. 19, 1942): 45-47.
Wagner, Margaret E, David M. Kennedy, Linda B. Osborne, and Susan Reyburn. The Library of Congress World War II Companion. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007.