Even as far back as the Revolutionary War, the U.S. government, military, and private groups have used varying forms of propaganda to drum up support for certain political causes. Some of these methods — including posters, comics, and even video games — have become iconic symbols, creating motivation for reaching political ends, thereby framing American patriotism as we know it today.

However, successful propaganda campaigns are much less prevalent now than in years past.

According to Steve Alvarez, an author who writes about propaganda, “The channels to communicate to the masses were controlled by select groups, so ultimately messages were effectively communicated.”

Prior to the birth of mass media and the internet, it was very easy for mainstream media channels to manipulate the public’s perception to a political end.

“Think about Rosie the Riveter or the War Bonds campaigns of the 1940s,” Alvarez told Task & Purpose. “Domestic propaganda worked in order to get the immediate and tacit support of the U.S. populace to support the country’s industrial war effort.”

Now, this sort of government-media influence is simply not possible, but there are pieces of propaganda used throughout American history that are still easily recognizable today.

Here are eight of America’s most notable propaganda campaigns.


Join or Die


Though technically produced before the 13 colonies were considered the United States of America, this piece of propaganda helped kick off the Revolutionary War. Created by Benjamin Franklin and published first in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754 to unite the colonies during the French and Indian War, the print was repurposed as the first symbol of colonial unity in our nation’s history in 1765.

Union Forever


During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy employed a number of tactics to entice young men to enlist. “Union Forever” became a fixture on almost every poster in the North. It was often written as a call to serve under “the flag of our union forever and ever.” Many posters offered to pay volunteers $150 for their service, an equivalent of about $4,000 today.

Victory Garden


During World War I, Europe developed a food shortage as farmers joined the military, and land where crops were planted turned into battlefields. The United States became the leading producer of agricultural goods. A man named Charles Lathrop Pack organized the National War Garden Commission to encourage Americans to grow “victory gardens” and eat their own crops so that more food could be exported to allied troops overseas. As a result, many encouraging posters emerged with phrases like “sow the seeds of victory” or “the fruits of victory.”

“Gee!! I wish I were a man, I’d join the Navy.



America entered World War I in 1917, and during that year, thousands of men volunteered to join the military. Twenty-year-old Bernice Smith was among those that walked into a California recruiting office to see about enlisting in the Navy. Watching all of the young men there signing up, she suddenly said the words, “Gee I wish I were a man, I’d join the Navy.” One of America’s most famous illustrators, Howard Chandler Christy, was present at the time, and requested that Smith pose for him. Her words were then emblazoned on a poster with Smith in uniform and a sailor’s cap, and she became the unintentional first military pin-up girl. A few days later, she herself joined the Navy and rose to the rank of chief yeoman. During World War II, Smith wanted to re-enlist, but was turned down for her age. Ultimately, the piece has been deemed as propaganda largely because it served to entice men to the military, falsely suggest that women could not join, and also suggest that women should challenge the status quo at the time. The campaign was effective as it had different meanings for different demographics, all serving the purpose of convincing the young they ought to enlist in the Navy.

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