Friday, October 24, 2014

Sources for Researchers: Office of War Information Materials

The United States Office of War Information (OWI) was created during World War II for the specific purpose of relaying news and distributing propaganda to the public, both foreign and domestic.  While the National Archives’ online finding aid for OWI materials states its function was to “promote, in the United States and abroad, understanding of the status and progress of the war effort and of war policies, activities, and aims of the U.S. government,” there can be no question: a large portion of the materials distributed by the OWI was propaganda.  These materials included print materials such as posters and magazines, as well as films, radio shows, newsreels, and the Voice of America, which still operates as the official government broadcasting service of the United States.

Many of these materials still exist, both in analog and digital formats.  It is likely that posters produced by the OWI are the most familiar as they contain images that have become cultural icons: Rosie the Riveter, Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, and others that implore citizens to grow victory gardens, conserve energy, reuse materials, and practice discretion.   The National Archives’ online exhibit, Powers of Persuasion, features eleven such posters, and many more can be found online.  While not productions of the OWI, the audio and video files included in the collection – a song, a speech by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and a Bugs Bunny cartoon – are also of interest and display the use of propaganda to arouse patriotism and support for the war effort.

"Your victory garden counts more than ever!" image courtesy State Library of Ohio
Less familiar to us here in the United States are the propaganda materials which the OWI distributed in foreign countries.  One such title is Victory magazine, which was produced from 1942 to 1946.   No online search has retrieved much information about this publication, but according to the State Library of Ohio’s former Government Information Consultant, Audrey Hall Kise, this publication was designed to paint the United States in a positive light and was distributed solely in other countries.  Articles in Victory magazine discuss the progress made by the United States in the war, as well as featuring stories on the Smithsonian, the state of California, and progress in the fight against tuberculosis.  A label on every cover specifically stated that they were not for distribution in the United States.  
"Restricted: This publication is not for distribution in the United States or to American civilian or military personnel overseas."
Each issue was printed in multiple languages.  The examples below feature identical images of California's Mission Santa Barbara but is printed in three languages: Portuguese, French and Dutch, and are scanned from physical copies from the State Library of Ohio’s collection.
Mission Santa Barbara in Portuguese...

...and in French...

...and in Dutch.

It goes without saying that students of communications will find much of interest in this collection of materials.  As a communication style, the use of propaganda is layered: words and images are carefully chosen in order to influence a targeted audience toward a specific cause.  Furthermore, many of these images - particularly Rosie the Riveter - have evolved to mean more than they did initially.  In fact, Rosie the Riveter, even without her caption of "we can do it!" has become a symbol of women's power in a variety of forums (see examples, below)  Thus, she remains propaganda but with a new message. 
The original Rosie the Riveter, from the National Archives


Rosie supporting the fight against breast cancer (image from Flickr)

A sticker for Hillary Clinton's 2016 Presidential campaign (image from

 Again, many of these materials are available online and, thus, are easily accessible.  For those that are not available via the internet, however - specifically, Victory magazine - a visit to an institution with holdings of this title is worthwhile.  Fortunately, for those of us whom are unable to speak a foreign language, issues were distributed in English-speaking countries, as well.


  1. I HAVE to check this one out. Thanks!

    1. You should! The next time you're in Columbus, come by and you can see these. Or, if you have time, I'll give you a tour of our rare collections.