“I Want You” is a World War I poster featuring an image of “Uncle Sam” wearing patriotic clothing and pointing a finger at the poster’s viewer saying, “I Want You for US Army...Nearest Recruiting Station.” The image engages the viewer with a direct and confrontational stance. This image probably first appeared in 1916 on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly, several months before appearing on the now-famous poster. James Montgomery Flagg, a commercial artist at the time of the war, designed the poster in 1917 in order to encourage young American males to enlist; there was no conscription at the time of the U.S. entry into World War I. Flagg’s 1917 poster was an adaptation of a 1914 British poster featuring Lord Kitchener, a British general and Secretary of State for War during World War I. Flagg’s poster became, according to Flagg himself, “the most famous poster in the world.” The image of Uncle Sam was a self-portrait, and was later used in a similar enlistment campaign for World War II. Flagg was one of many commercial artists commissioned by George Creel’s Committee of Public Information, chosen for their accessible and familiar style and ability to create quickly. Over eight million copies were printed of Flagg’s “I Want You.”
I Want You - World War One Posters (July 1 2014 – December 21 2015) The years 1914-1918 mark the centenary of World War I, the most devastating global war in history. In the United States alone, over 4,000,000 military personnel were mobilized with 110,000 deaths. Virtually everyone was affected by the war in some way. In recognition of this important event in history, GRPM has selected posters from its permanent collection that demonstrate important issues at the heart of the war efforts.
Posters were a central way for the government to communicate with the public during World War I. The major themes of the posters were: patriotism and justifying the war, the recruitment of men and women for military and labor forces, raising money and resources as well as managing standards of behavior during a time when life was highly unpredictable. Through creative and symbolic graphics with bold messages, posters were considered a force in gaining support and uniting the public in the wartime efforts.
As you view these posters, reflect on the methods employed in creating them. How do the fonts, the word choice and images reinforce the intended message? Do these posters evoke a mood or emotion? Do any of the ideas in these posters conflict with the social and cultural norms of the time?