If you’re looking for a super easy to read Uncle Sam poster analysis, then you’re in the right place. This post will focus on the “I Want YOU” propaganda poster and why it was so effective.
- A Few American Symbols
- The Meaning of Uncle Sam
- When was the Uncle Sam Poster Used?
- During WWI
- During WWII
- Why Was This Poster Effective?
- Similar “Pointing Posters”
The United States (aka America) has a few symbols to represent itself, including:
- Columbia: She’s pictured as a woman with goddess-like traits. She represents liberty and the United States.
- Lady Liberty: She largely replaced Columbia and is now one of the most famous symbols of the United States.
- The Bald Eagle: It was chosen as a symbol of the United States in 1782. It symbolizes the strength and freedom of America.
Yet, there’s another important American icon. And his name is Uncle Sam.
What Does Uncle Sam Represent?
Uncle Sam (initials U.S. … just like the United States) has been featured in propaganda art many times and is a symbol of patriotism.
He’s also a “national personification” of the government of the United States of America.
National personification means that human characters are used to represent a whole nation.
When Was the Uncle Sam Poster Used?
In both WWI and WWII, the “I Want You” poster (Amazon) was used to motivate many young, American men to join the military.
It was also used to encourage Americans to support the United States in participating in WWI.
During WWI, four million copies of the “I Want You” poster were printed between 1917 and 1918. Almost every American had seen it.
It’s thought that many Americans were inspired by this poster. Over two million Americans enlisted to fight in WWI.
When America was at war again in WWII, millions of these posters were printed again. The poster was just as effective in WWII as it was in WWI.
Why Was This Poster Effective?
This poster is an example of powerful propaganda because it convinced people to think, feel, and act a certain way. The primary goal was to make young American men enlist.
But why was it so effective in getting millions of men to join the military?
Here are my thoughts:
- Uncle Sam is wearing very American colors of red, white, and blue. His clothing and top hat alone give him a patriotic look. Using patriotic colors influences the viewer to feel proud of his country.
- Uncle Sam is pointing at the viewer and it grabs their attention. It makes the viewer feel like he’s speaking directly to them. Plus, the word ‘You’ is in red while the other letters are black. This, again, stresses the feeling that Uncle Sam is speaking directly to the viewer.
- The idea behind Uncle Sam’s glare was that no dignified and proud man would turn away from him and refuse to fight to protect America.
Similar “Pointing Posters”
The “I Want You” poster was not the first poster with a man pointing at the viewer. In the early 1900s, the most famous posters were very similar worldwide.
Here are a few examples:
- 1914: The British had a recruitment poster featuring a uniformed, army commander, Lord Kitchener. He points and glares at the viewer. The text reads, “Join Your Country’s Army!”
- 1917: Italy had a similar poster with an anonymous soldier. The text translates to, “Everyone do your duty! War loan subscriptions available at Credito Italiano”. The goal was to motivate the Italians to buy war bonds to help pay for the war. However, many people didn’t have much money to spare at that time. The poster had to be powerful enough to motivate people to buy bonds despite their financial difficulties.
- 1920: A poster published in Moscow, Russia, features a soldier pointing at the viewer. The text translates to, “Did you volunteer?” The goal was to encourage men to enlist in the Red Army.
These types of “pointing posters” created a personal connection between the poster and the viewer, often stirring up feelings of guilt and the pressure to act immediately.