WWI Collections: The Atkin Posters

One of Washington University in St Louis’s most spectacular WWI holdings is a collection of more than 400 WWI recruitment and propaganda posters, originally collected by Louis and Jodi Atkin, who donated the collection to Wash U in 2014.

A 1918 WWI poster of a busy shipyard illustrated by painter Jonas Lie.

Louis Atkin assembled his collection by searching though antique shows and shops, eventually amassing posters from every major country involved in WWI, including America, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Czechoslovakia. Below are posters from Germany and France displaying heroic images of men fighting terrifying beasts with text that request viewers to subscribe to national loans. Such images glamorized war and provided much-needed moral.

A 1918 French WWI poster illustrated by Abel Faivre.

A German WWI poster from 1917 illustrated by Maximilian Lenz.

Most of the American posters in the collection are dated after 1917 when America officially joined the war and encourage citizens to enlist, purchase war bonds, and support other war efforts like volunteering for the Red Cross and various women’s organizations. The poster below is for The Woman’s Land Army of America, a civilian organization that trained women, many of whom were college educated and had never worked on a farm before, to take over food production while the men were at war.

A 1918 poster for the Woman’s Land Army, illustrated by Andrew Paus.

The American posters feature illustrations by some of the top illustrators of the day, including Saturday Evening Post cover artist J. C. Leyendecker and frequent Cosmopolitan illustrator/ cover artist Harrison Fisher, who both created a number of posters to support the war effort. The Leyendecker poster displayed below prompts citizens to order their coal from the United States Fuel Administration, which was created in 1917 to regulate the use of coal and increase its production during a historic shortage.

A 1918 poster illustrated by Joseph Leyendecker.

A 1918 American Red Cross poster by Harrison Fisher.

Another popular artist featured in the collection is Howard Chandler Christy, who became well-known for his “Christy girl” such as the one displayed in the poster below. The Christy girl was an iconic image of a young society woman with a unique and memorable style. After the war, Christy went on to become a popular portrait painter, painting the portraits of six American presidents and other important figures.

A 1919 Red Cross Poster illustrated by Howard Christy.

Of course, the most recognizable posters in the collection feature the iconic Uncle Sam, created by illustrator James Montgomery Flagg. Flagg was both a cartoonist and a contributing illustrator for a number of high-profile magazines, but Uncle Sam remains his most well-known work.

James Montgomery Flagg’s iconic Uncle Sam poster.

Another war poster illustrated by James Montgomery Flagg

Many of these posters are currently on display throughout Washington University in St Louis’ Olin Library. You can view the image below for their exact locations. The poster that was located by Whispers has been temporarily relocated due to construction.

For more information on the Atkin posters, you can read our 2014 blog post about acquiring the collection here.

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St Louis. Her focus is on 20th and 21st century American literature and disability studies.