U.S. War Bonds with Popular Photography


Today, the world faces tumultuous economic times, so perhaps it's both transporting, and even a bit hopeful, to take a look back at what things were like when life was really challenging-- at Christmastime during World War II.

A December 1942 copy of Popular Photography magazine is our time machine today-- giving us a glimpse into how professional photographers were communicating critical war-time issues to the public through imagery....

And how amateur photographers were being drawn in to assist the war effort in some very surprising ways.


We'll begin today with some of the wartime posters directed at everyday Americans. The magazine article was designed to give how-to tips for creating war poster photos with impact, but maybe visual impact isn't exactly a premium when you've already got a headline like this one...


"Take care!" the poster warns. "Idle hands work for Hitler!" You get the feeling that this guy has heard that just a few too many times lately from the doctors at the clinic... And his buddies at work... And the guys at the canteen... And that the next person who says this phrase to our poor fellow here is going to get a good left-handed biff in the snoot.

"I broke my arm fer Pete's sake!" he's saying. "It's not like Hitler's signed my cast, er nothin'!"

Of course, during this time period, any number of things also were said to work for Hitler. Pessimists worked for Hitler... Cooks who squandered their bacon grease worked for Hitler... Wearing nylons worked for Hitler... Even choreographers of dance routines worked for Hitler (oops! sorry-- that was much later, once Mel Brooks got a hold of 'em).

Now here below, we have the lead singer from Midnight Oil who shows that he can really put his back into it for the U.S. (even though he's Australian) when it comes to productivity...


Believe it or not, this very poster was the inspiration for Midnight Oil's "Beds are Burning" hit in the 80s. (Yes, he was already 65 when he had his big career surge. They just didn't talk about that in the VH1 Behind the Music special.)

But shoveling in an inferno was only one way of helping defeat Hitler. Did you know, good Americans could even change their driving styles to help U.S. troops?...


Yes, by taking it slow during that summer drive, you could save on valuable rubber that was more greatly needed overseas!

Only, our driver, Mr. Jones there, doesn't look very happy, does he? He's got an expression on his face like he's been trapped on this vacation roadtrip with the family for 18 hours... the smell of little kid vomit's been wafting from the back seat since hour two... and by gosh, they're going to get to Lake Winnapausakee if it kills them.

Of course, Mr. Jones does want to do his part...


Apparently if he doesn't do his part, heavy machinery will roll to his little white picket-fenced tract home. And that will be pretty hard to explain to the neighbors.

Hey, did you know farming was another great way to defeat the Nazis?


I imagine wife after wife was showing up at the U.S. Employment Office-- not hoping to sign her husband up for a farm job or anything-- but just looking for this guy.

By 1940s standards, this guy was pretty much Brad Pitt. He was good for morale.

"Mrs. Brown, he's an actor. An actor," explained the tired government employee for the umpteenth time. "No, he doesn't work for us. Go home. And please take Mrs. Simmons, Mrs. O'Leary and Mrs. Jefferson with you."

Of course, the government had other effective ways of making Americans comply with military need. One was by showing the magnitude of the problem...


But more effective was, well... good old-fashioned guilt...


Do you want the life of this innocent gunner on your hands because you didn't contribute all you could? Worse yet-- do you want to disappoint him? Well, of course not! So fork over those stockings lady, and stop driving so fast; you're giving Hitler fits of giggles with every selfish thing you do. And nobody wants a happy Hitler.

Here we see one strong, proud Welder-American doing what he can to help the U.S...


He's "Free Labor." Though it does kinda look like they've got him on some sort of electrical lead there, doesn't it?... Well, I'm sure he's mostly kinda free. Or as free as a man can be who can't run very fast in all that equipment and with a visor that undoubtedly keeps falling down.

Here we see "Men Working Together"...


(Not to be confused with Men at Work or the Village People...) The amusing part about these Men Working Together is that, well, pictures don't lie-- and these men never even met...


During the 1940s, even Santa Claus had a good bead on what was going on during the War...


This rather crabby-looking Santa Claus is showing you one of the best wartime gifts around--- a refurbished camera.

Santa also recommends you buy War Bonds. After all, the elves have gone to all that trouble making them. What are you waiting for?

And yet another ad echoes Santa's sentiments...


Promote Peace on Earth by getting everyone you love U.S. War Bonds and Stamps!... (Er, and also photography equipment.) But mostly War Bonds and Stamps!

And looking to send our troops that extra-special gift? Bauch and Lomb suggests you donate your binoculars to the cause...


Yes, tell your wife to stop using them to spy on what casserole Mrs. Stevens is making across the street. Instead, put 'em to good use by sending them to the U.S. Navy-- who will use them to spy on the Germans and see what they're making for dinner across the street.

Lastly, I thought you might enjoy seeing how actress Bette Davis got into the act...



Bette wants us to support the USO. She probably also wouldn't mind if we bought some War Bonds, but she's shy about asking.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this little journey back in time. The great thing about looking back at history is, no matter how bad it seems now, it never was really so swell then, either.


Otherwise, I hope to see you this coming Wednesday! And in the meantime-- go easy on those tires, eh?

21 comments:

ClioandMe said...

used to sell old magazines, advertisements, and newspapers when I was in high school. That might be one reason I ended up studying history. Yes, even banal and tasteless images raise questions and invite analysis.

By the way, did all these images come from the issue of Popular Photography that you show at the beginning of the post?

Jaffer said...

All I can say is Bravo ! Where did that kind of patriotism go in the last 60 years ?

That "Drive Slower in Hot Weather" cracks me up.
Even if I was around during that time, I'd have gone, "Are you kidding me ? Look at the small the windows of my car !"

So in short all these posters are saying, shop shop till Hitler drops ?

I believe we are being told the same thing again but this time help our economies.
We are our own wallet's enemies !

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

Mark- Yup, it was all in one very-full edition of that magazine. And there's so much more to post-- some interesting home-spun photographs as well, some art photos, some color images (which was unusual for the time). I will probably be posting more from here at some point.

Jaffer- These posters (or at least many of the ephemera of the time) say "scrimp, save and cut back wherever you can each day, because every little thing you do to reduce your costs and donate to our troops is patriotic." It's almost the opposite philosophy, though the guilt tactics and pressures are in some way very similar to what we see today.

I find it really fascinating.

Jaffer said...

It's nice to have keys to two houses. You set everything up for a party and are waiting for the guests relaxing on a chair -

then you realize "Oh damn it I told everybody to come at the other address !"

And you pick up everything and leave.

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

Jaffer- Heh, that's exactly what happened, too-- great description. OH BOY, I have been discombobulated today. Something must be in the water.

Da Old Man said...

Unless I read the ad wrong, isn't that camera ad to have your camera fixed? I guess Santa wanted to keep the elves busy with materials so limited.

Prefers Her Fantasy Life said...

Interesting posters. These days, one would hardly know there's a war going on.

Sher said...

Hi there, Young 'un! A bit of nostalgia to add to this, but let's set the scene: Mid 1950's, Indianapolis, Public School #49, any Monday. I remember taking $1.00 to school, using it to buy ten stamps that would be pasted in a special bonds booklet. When that booklet was filled, I'd take it back to school (on a Monday, of course) and trade it in for a $25 bond. I have no idea why or when those Monday bond drives stopped...

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

Da Old Man- I do believe you're right. I'll have to tweak that!

Meg- I guess the modern equivalent then would roughly be, "Every Mile You Drive is a Win for Bin Laden." Something like that-- I dunno, I'd have to work on it. :)

Sher- Thanks for the extra bit of history! And what, if anything, did you all end up doing with the bonds? Were you able to cash them in eventually?

chyna said...

I bet this explains the wire hanger hangup that ol' Bette had. Nobody told her the war was over.

Thrift Shop Romantic said...

Chyna- I think Joan Crawford was the one with the wire coat hanger issues-- though they're similar in a lot of ways. And interestingly, I read once that the two just HATED each other.

I read once that when both Bette and Joan were in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" they did various things to each other to make life difficult-- like Joan put rocks in her pockets so it would be harder for Bette to move her in one scene.

Rosemary said...

These are so fun Jenn!
I love the old photos and ads.
It was a funny era.
Hope you are having a good start to the week.
Rosemary

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Rosemary- Glad you enjoyed-- yes, just when I think I have a good read on the time, I find something else that's fascinating. Thanks for visiting!

WH said...

Enjoyed this post. A different era with a different perspective to the issues of the day. :)

Sher said...

Jenn, I DID cash them in and remember being surprised that the interest accumulated made them worth over $25 each. I re-invested some of the money into larger bonds and bought a "new" used car with the rest. That was around 1967-68 when brand new cars, fully loaded, were considered really expensive if they topped $4,000.

It was also during a time that I would have NEVER considered that my actions would be considered part of "history"!

Hugs,
Sher

ThriftShopRomantic said...

WH- Thanks for visiting!

Sher- That's the thing about history, though. We never know it when we're in it. :)

Bird said...

Santa is absolutely Terrifying. I don't want him rummaging about in my stocking.

Lana Gramlich said...

At the bookstore last night Charles & I just browsed through an entire book of WWII propaganda posters. Some were funny in the unabashed use of the word "Jap," for example. That "nervous laughter" kind of funny. Over all it was surprising to see that truly, the more things change, the more they stay the same!

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Lana- Ah, yes. I've noticed some similarities between WWII Americanism and stuff we're seeing today. You're right. That's why history is so fascinating. There's always something to related to-- of course, as you said, you pretty much have to take a light view of it, otherwise it can be fairly depressing!

Anonymous said...

I am interested in finding out if the separate photos of the soldier, civilian and sailor for the wwII poster Men Working Together on your blog came from the December 1942 Popular Photography. The soldier is my father William M. Roe. According to an article in his hometown South Carolina newspaper, he was guarding a bomber plant in Baltimore, Md. at the time he posed for the poster. My siblings and I have been trying unsuccessfully to find/purchase a copy of this poster. It was awesome to see the full picture of him. We'd love to find that too. It is similar to one he posed for in New Guinea/New Caledonia with some of his buddies later in the war. Thanks for any information or links you might provide. - Jim Roe roej67@msn.com

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Jim- That's astounding! The magazine was indeed the December 1942 edition of Popular Photography. I will look in the magazine and see if there's more information regarding those specific images that I can share with you. I've just gotten into work, but will look later and see what I can dig up. Thanks so much for commenting!