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  Sheldon WWII Posters as Collections Treasures

Addison E. Sheldon
Addison E. Sheldon (4541)

Addison E. Sheldon, pictured here supervising the work of Society employees, was superintendent of the Nebraska State Historical Society from 1917 to 1943.  He emphasized collecting materials reflecting the daily lives of ordinary Nebraskans and documenting contemporary events. Soon after becoming superintendent, Sheldon visited the battlefields of France as a press correspondent during the fall of 1918. There he talked with Nebraskans serving on the front lines and returned home with posters, banners, uniforms, shell casings, and other artifacts. He also gathered posters displayed in and around Lincoln during both world wars. In all, Sheldon collected 611 wartime posters for the Society.

Here is a sampling of posters from World War II:

USO Duck Pin Bowling Party
Although most of the posters in the collection are from series distributed nationally, this hand-painted poster is specific to Lincoln and its home front war efforts. Posters were an inexpensive and accessible way to promote rationing, patriotism and solidarity, sacrifice, and the protection of sensitive information.


Join. Be an Air Wac 4541-347,  America's Answer! Production -802-(2)
These two posters are from early in the war. Their design tends more towards fine art and subtlety compared to later posters, which were more direct in their appeal and with more of an advertising approach. The poster on the right is by famed artist Jean Carlu.


Do your part to win the war
Many of the earlier war posters were text heavy. The government eventually turned away from such posters because they took too much effort to read and did not clearly communicate their messages.


I gave a man! 4541-413  If you tell where he is going ... -358  I'm counting on you! -362
NEXT! Japan. 6th war loan

These four posters encourage saving and the purchase of war bonds, a popular theme. They also reflect the trend towards advertisement-type images. Another interesting feature is the use of guilt as a "selling" point-a common ploy in posters from 1942 on.


Wanted! for murder4541-419-(1)  A careless word, a needless loss -431  Careless talk got there first -368
A common message admonished against leaking sensitive information that might benefit the enemy. The second and third posters featured here are graphic in their depiction of the fate of American soldiers in such instances. By about 1944-45 this type of poster was no longer produced as the government determined that showing Americans in danger of being killed, or killing others, was not well-received.


Look Who's Listening
This poster's blatant racism illustrates a deliberate design based on a survey of viewer reactions to similar posters in Canada. The survey indicated that posters were most effective when they were designed to the lowest level of the viewing population's comprehension, a demographic identified as the "lower third." Resulting guidelines stated that pictures were more effective than words, and the pictures had to relate to people and objects as the average American saw them. These guidelines all but eliminated the use of fine art imagery in wartime posters.


Vacation at home. 9806-80  Sacrifice for freedom! 4541-540  Won't you give my boy a chance to get home?4541-535

Do with less so they'll have enough!4541 -741  Get in the scrap -733  Have you really tried? -745
Sacrifice is a ubiquitous theme in wartime posters-as illustrated here. In 1942 the Office of War Information was formed and charged with the review, approval, and distribution of all posters. The OWI eventually developed six propaganda themes for the posters:

Right of way for the U.S.A. 4541-758   Every day you take off gives the Axis a break -792
Eventually many corporations and large industry groups began poster production and distribution. Their goal was to promote themselves to the public, as with the railway industry poster, or to encourage worker discipline. Some of the posters attempted to turn employees into "production soldiers," equating their role with that of the soldiers on the battlefields. Unions and labor groups also produced their own posters crediting wartime production success to the workers and not necessarily to the industry that employed them. These posters reflected tension between labor and management common during peacetime, which was lessened but not ended by the demands of wartime production.


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Last updated 18 August 2009

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