‘I Want You’: 5 Of America’s Best World War I Recruitment Posters

Published: 9 August 2023

By Jenna Biter
via the Coffee or Die Magazine web site

Coffee or Die header image

A portion of the illustration on a 1917 First Liberty Loan poster depicts a monumental Uncle Sam seated in the center. On the left, citizens offer the old man money. Meanwhile, military personnel stand on the right. Poster via the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-8040.

World War I produced the United States’ most iconic military propaganda poster of all time.

“I Want You for U.S. Army” by James Montgomery Flagg

You know the one: A stern Uncle Sam, patriotically attired in a star-spangled top hat, aims a bony finger at passersby, imploring them to stop whatever they’re doing and head to their local recruiting station. “I Want YOU for US Army,” reads the caption — and you can tell by his death stare that he’s not likely to take “no” for an answer.

While the image of Uncle Sam became famous for its role in military recruitment efforts during World War I, it actually predates America’s entry into the conflict. In fact, it first appeared in print nearly a year before the first wave of US troops arrived in Europe. Prolific illustrator James Montgomery Flagg had sketched the steely eyed Uncle Sam for the cover of the July 6, 1916, issue of the popular literary and news magazine Leslie’s Weekly. This version was captioned: “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?”

Nine months later, after the United States declared war on Germany, the Army adapted Flagg’s image for a recruitment poster and updated it with the “I Want You for U.S. Army” caption. Below that, the words “Nearest Recruiting Station” were centered above a blank space meant to be filled in with the address of the nearest Army recruiting station.

Flagg’s “I Want You” poster quickly became ubiquitous in towns and cities across the country. Over the course of the war, more than 4 million copies of the poster were printed.

But Uncle Sam doesn’t deserve all the credit for motivating fresh-faced young Americans to take up arms amid one of the most brutal conflicts in human history. There were other recruitment posters, too, and some of them were also pretty great. Including Flagg’s, here are our top five.

“I Want You for U.S. Army”

Artwork by James Montgomery Flagg

In 1914, Englishman Alfred Leete illustrated British war secretary Lord Kitchener pointing at young Britons and urging them to “Join [Their] Country’s Army!” Two years later, Flagg copied Leete’s design and Americanized the advertisement in his famous “I Want You” poster. The result was a star-spangled Uncle Sam modeled after none other than Flagg himself. Due to its long-lasting celebrity, Flagg’s iconic poster was later recycled and used for recruiting purposes during World War II.

“Teufel Hunden”

Artwork by Charles Buckles Falls

As the story goes, during the First World War, German soldiers so feared American Marines that they started calling them “teufelshunde,” or “devil dogs.” Whether that story is true remains up for debate, but at some point during the Great War, someone referred to Marines as “devil dogs,” and the nickname stuck. With his World War I Marine recruitment poster, titled “Teufel Hunden” (a misspelling of the German term), American artist Charles Buckles Falls not only helped cement the moniker, but also poked fun at the Germans by depicting them as wiener dogs.

Read the entire article on the Coffee or Die web site here:

External Web Site Notice: This page contains information directly presented from an external source. The terms and conditions of this page may not be the same as those of this website. Click here to read the full disclaimer notice for external web sites. Thank you.


Share this article

Related posts