The Yanks are Coming!

Selected World War I posters from the collections of the New Bedford Whaling Museum

On April 6, 1917, the United States Congress declared war upon the German Empire. The Museum honors the veterans of World War I with an exhibition of vintage wartime posters.

Curated by Emma Rocha

The Yanks are Coming poster
 Howard Chandler Christy, Clear the Way.
Lithograph, 1918. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

During World War I, the impact of the poster as a source of information and propaganda was greater than at any other time in history. Designed by hundreds of America’s best illustrators and printed by the thousands, these posters were very popular for their bright colors, strong messaging, and dynamic visual graphics. While a large number of wonderful posters were also produced during WWII, they were overshadowed in that era by radio and film.

WWI poster themes focused on recruitment, financial backing, and other assistance from the home front. Those who did not enlist were asked to support the war effort by purchasing bonds or subscribing to war loans. Citizens at home, including women, were encouraged to participate in relief organizations such as the YMCA, the YWCA, the Red Cross, or through government jobs.

WWI began as a conflict between the Allies, which included France, the United Kingdom, and Russia, and the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. “The war to end all wars” began in 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife Sophie. Italy joined the Allies in 1915, followed by the United States on April 6, 1917. A ceasefire was announced on November 11, 1918.

Artist Charles Dana Gibson led the Committee on Public Information’s Division of Pictorial Publicity, an independent government agency created by President Woodrow Wilson, which encouraged artists to contribute their work in support of the war effort. Gibson, who is represented in the Museum’s exhibition The Golden Age of Marion, may have encouraged New Bedford’s own Clifford W. Ashley to make a poster of the sinking of the ship Lusitania. Other artists included George Bellows, Kenyon Cox, Arthur G. Dove, William Glackens, Frank E. Schhoonover, N.C. Wyeth, Howard Chandler Christy, Joseph Leyendecker, and James Montgomery Flagg, the last three of whom are represented here.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum has over original 75 posters from both WWI and WWII in the permanent collection.