Squash the Squander Bug

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Dec. 13 2012 7:30 AM

Squashing the Squander Bug in Wartime Britain

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

The Imperial War Museum in London holds this World War II-era air rifle target. Although the item looks like a piece of outsider art, with its homemade fur and swastikas on its belly, it’s a representation of a cartoon character well known in the United Kingdom during the war years: the Squander Bug.

The Squander Bug was the creation of Phillip Boydell, an artist employed by the National Savings Committee, an organization that encouraged citizens to lend money to the war effort.

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In poster campaigns, the malevolent little Bug accompanied cartoon Britons on their shopping trips, whispering in their ears and encouraging them to squander their money rather than invest in savings certificates (a program akin to American war bonds). One “Wanted” poster called the Bug “Hitler’s Pal” and described him as having a “tempting leer and a flattering manner.”

The Squander Bug was often depicted getting his comeuppance: He’s squashed, attacked by dogs, and in this Australian cartoon from 1945, smashed by the weaponry that savings certificates forged. Making the Bug an air-rifle target was a real-world way to carry out that animated destruction.

Dr. Seuss drew his own version of the Squander Bug for American audiences (without the swastikas), but the character never became as ubiquitous on this side of the Atlantic.

Thanks to Kate Crowther of the Imperial War Museum and to Juliette Kristensen for the tip.

squander bug air rifle target

Squander Bug air rifle target, held at the Imperial War Museum. © IWM (EPH 4611)

squander bug wanted poster

Squander Bug poster, illustrated by Phillip Boydell, at the Imperial War Museum. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 3406)

Rebecca Onion, who runs Slate’s history blog The Vault, is a writer and academic living in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter.

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