Revisiting Rights-Free: WPA Posters—Perennial Favorites on Enduring Themes

The Prints & Photographs Division’s collection of posters produced for the Work Projects Administration (WPA) in the 1930s and 1940s is one of many highlights among the division’s extensive poster holdings. These posters touch on a number of themes, including public health and occupational safety, travel and tourism, recreation and educational programs and World War II. Luckily for researchers, the more than 900 posters have long been digitized and are available for viewing from anywhere.

As Jan Grenci, our poster specialist, notes: “The WPA posters continue to be of interest not just because of their historical significance as a product of a New Deal program, but also because they stand the test of time as examples of great design.” Jan shared this poster, which promotes resources provided by libraries, as well as winter sport!

January--A year of good reading ahead. Poster by Chicago : Illinois WPA Art Project, between 1936 and 1941. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3f05186

January–A year of good reading ahead. Poster by Chicago : Illinois WPA Art Project, between 1936 and 1941. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3f05186

WPA posters advertise a variety of other educational community services, including adult classes on a number of subjects. This one lists pottery, sewing, metalwork and photography among a number of subjects students could explore at New York’s Henry Street Settlement Craft School.

Craft school Pottery, modeling, weaving, painting, drawing, woodcarving, sewing, needlework, metalwork, photography. Poster by Jerome Henry Rothstein, between 1936 and 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ds.11911

Other WPA posters promote health and safety. Like many in the collection, this poster proposes solutions to dangers in the workplace.

<em>Save your eyes - use your goggles.</em> Poster by Illinois : Federal Art Project, 1936 or 1937. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49074

Save your eyes – use your goggles. Poster by Illinois : Federal Art Project, 1936 or 1937. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49074

Others offer reminders of the risks inherent in certain kinds of work, promoting general awareness and vigilance.

<em>Work with care.</em> Poster by Nathan Sherman, 1936 or 1937. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49072

Work with care. Poster by Nathan Sherman, 1936 or 1937. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b49072

These two posters by Erik Hans Krause emphasize the importance of cleanliness as part of a public health campaign.

Keep Clean. Poster by Erik Hans Kraus, between 1936 and 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.38346

Keep clean. Poster by Erik Hans Kraus, between 1936 and 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.38346

Be clean in everything that concerns your baby. Poster by Erik Hans Kraus, between 1936 and 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.38335

Be clean in everything that concerns your baby. Poster by Erik Hans Kraus, between 1936 and 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.38335

Posters promoting the beauty of America’s National Parks and other protected spaces are among the most popular.

The national parks preserve wild life. Poster by NYC : Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project, between 1936 and 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.23061

The national parks preserve wild life. Poster by NYC : Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project, between 1936 and 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.23061

See America. Poster by NYC : Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project, between 1936 and 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g04243

See America. Poster by NYC : Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project, between 1936 and 1939. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g04243

If you were not already familiar with the WPA’s posters, or with the collection at the Library of Congress, we hope these examples show why these resources are a perennial favorite. Please feel free to use the links below to explore further.

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One Comment

  1. Mary
    January 11, 2021 at 1:11 pm

    I recently learned my uncle Walter Kingsley (1910-1983) worked for the WPA in lieu of being drafted into WW2.He was a conscientious objector. I found his draft registration in the Ancestry dot com database.

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