Merchant Marine Posters during World War I and World War II


It's what posters are all about. The goal is to get a message across quickly, using bright colors, dramatic graphics, and few -- but clever -- words.

Posters are meant to persuade people to buy something, attend an event, vote for a candidate or issue, or influence their behavior.

  • Drink Coke. Travel to Canada. Fly Southwest Airlines. Shop Macy's.
  • See Cher's Farewell Tour.
  • Vote for Bush. Vote for Kerry. Vote "Yes" on Measure "A."
  • Smokey the Bear Says: Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires!

During World War I and especially World War II, governments used posters to explain policies and arouse patriotism. In the United States, propaganda posters urged people to sacrifice, work hard, conserve resources, buy bonds, enlist, keep secrets, and stay healthy.

Posters told us our allies were good and our enemies were evil.

For example, a World War II poster showed the African-American world-champion boxer Joe Louis in uniform, with bayonet mounted on his rifle: "Pvt. Joe Louis says -- 'We're going to do our part . . . and we'll win because we're on God's side'."

A poster urging car-pooling: "When you ride ALONE you ride with Hitler! Join a Car-Sharing Club TODAY!" There were many variations on "You can't beat the Axis if you get a Venereal Disease" or "The fly is as deadly as a bomber!"

Merchant marine themes for posters were similar during both wars.

World War I Merchant Marine Posters

World War II Merchant Marine Posters

Total 173 Posters

Note: We include some Navy posters, since there were U.S. Navy Armed Guard aboard merchant ships in both wars.

Sources for Posters:
Bethlehem Area Public Library
Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
First World
The Hoover Institution Stanford University Poster collection
KJA World War I posters
Library of Congress American Memory Project Posters from the WPA
Louisiana State Archives' World War I Poster Collection
The Museum of World War II, Inc
Northwestern University Library
Personal Collection
Snapshots of the Past
University of Minnesota and Minneapolis Public Libraries War Posters


Created 12/15/04 Revised 06/18/08 ©1998-2008. You may quote small portions of material on this website as long as you cite American Merchant Marine at War, as the source. You may not use more than a few paragraphs without permission. If you see substantial portions of any page from this website on the Internet or in published material please notify us.