To Arms! A Gallery of War Recruitment Posters

In times of war, there are basically two ways for a combatant nation to fill the ranks of its armed services — it can recruit volunteer soldiers or conscript (i.e. draft) them. The former is accomplished in any number of ways, one of which is the mass production of recruitment posters. As we approach our yearly Veterans Day remembrance, I felt a new gallery was in order, so here it is.

Quasi-War (1798 – 1800)

To all brave, healthy, able bodied, and well disposed young men, in this neighbourhood, who have any inclination to join the troops, now raising under General Washington, for the defence of the liberties and independence of the United States, against the hostile designs of foreign enemies, take notice ..

This is commonly thought to be a recruitment poster for the American Revolution, but the 11th Infantry Regiment (under Lt. Col. Aaron Ogden) referenced in the poster was not formed until 1798, when war with France loomed. For a full-resolution version of this image click here.

American Civil War (1861 – 1865)

Civil War recruiting poster

Civil War Union recruitment poster

"Men of Color: To Arms! To Arms!" Civil War Broadside, ca. 1863.

Despite what you might see on Google, most Civil War recruitment posters were not printed in color. Most of them, however, were really, really wordy.

Pancho Villa Expedition (1916 – 1917)

Pancho Villa Expedition (1916 - 1917) recruitment poster

The Pancho Villa Expedition — officially known in the U.S. as the Mexican Expedition and sometimes colloquially referred to as the Punitive Expedition — was a military operation conducted by the United States Army against the paramilitary forces of Mexican insurgent Francisco “Pancho” Villa during the Mexican Revolution. The expedition was in retaliation for Villa’s attack on the town of Columbus, New Mexico and was the most remembered event of the Border War. The expeditions had one objective — to capture Villa dead or alive and put a stop to any future forays by his paramilitary forces on American soil. The quest ultimately ended in failure — Villa was never captured and American troops were redeployed to Europe to fight in World War I.

World War I (1914 – 1918)

World War I U.S. Navy recruitment poster

World War I recruitment poster - "Treat 'em Rough"


World War I posters employed a wide range of tactics to attract recruits. There were the classic appeals to manhood and patriotism on one side, and the outright dehumanizing of the enemy (Germans mostly) on the other side. Then there is perhaps one of the most iconic and enduring images in American history, which was actually inspired by a British design:

World War I recruitment poster - "I Want You for U.S. Army"

World War II (1939 – 1945)

World War II U.S. recruitment poster - U.S. Navy

World War II recruitment poster - U.S. Marines

World War II recruitment poster - U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps

Korean War (1950 – 1953)

Korean War era recruiting poster

Korean War recruitment poster - Women's Medical Specialist Corps U.S. Army

Between the Korean War’s outbreak in June 1950 and its end in 1953, Selective Service inducted 1,529,539 men, while another 1.3 million volunteered. Most joined the Navy and Air Force. One thing I noticed right away is that the recruitment posters starting from this era tend to be much more generic and rousing than earlier wars. I’ll leave it to others more educated than I am to guess why that is.

Vietnam War (1955 – 1975)

Get Set... Go... Marine Aviation

"Heritage" U.S. Navy recruiting poster, Vietnam War era

As with the Korean War, Vietnam War era posters tend to be more generic and toned down (rhetoric-wise that is). But as the now-famous “Heritage” poster for the U.S. Navy demonstrates, these images could still be powerful ones.

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