The Colorful Posters That Motivated Jazz-Age Workers To Strive

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Aug. 31 2013 7:00 AM

The Colorful Posters That Motivated Jazz-Age Workers To Strive

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

Mather & Company, Chicago printers who capitalized on the 1920s-era fascination with enhancing efficiency in the workplace, produced this colorful motivational art to be hung in factories and offices.

Historian David A. Gray writes that the Seth Seiders Syndicate, which owned Mather & Company, built on the success of the government’s poster campaign during WWI. The Syndicate seized upon the idea of asking businesses to subscribe to a poster series, selling clients on the concept of workplace artwork featuring maxims that would represent the latest in management theory. 

Advertisement

Unlike workplace safety posters—also a recent invention in the early twentieth century—Mather’s art dictated rules of interpersonal workplace behavior. The posters preached self-discipline, loyalty, honesty, and diligence, and promised that workers who followed these guidelines would be promoted above their peers.

The appeal to the individual, as Gray points out, was of particular interest to employers in the 1920s, who were emerging from a few decades of severe conflicts between labor and management. Catering to managers looking to avert further trouble from within, Mather posters tried to get individuals to think of their own interests rather than those of a union or ethnic group.

The “Gangs Tie Your Hands” poster, below, is one such example; in another, a football player runs with the ball tucked under his arm, while the poster warns “Keeping clear of gangs keeps you clear of interference.”

The posters below were sold at Swann Auction Galleries on August 7. The International Poster Gallery hosts an online collection of many other Mather posters.

Mather Poster

Mather & Company, Designer Unknown, "Criticism Is Necessary/When You Listen You Learn," 1925. Image courtesy Swann Auction Galleries. Sold August 7, 2013 for $900.

MatherPoster5Final

Mather & Company, Designer Unknown, "What's a Straight Line?/Don't Detour!," 1925. Image courtesy Swann Auction Galleries. Sold August 7, 2013 for $1,900.

MatherPoster1Final

Mather & Company, Designer Unknown, "Step Up!/We Want To Be Fair," 1924. Image courtesy Swann Auction Galleries. Sold August 7, 2013 for $2,600.

MatherPoster4Final

Mather & Company, Designer Unknown, "Gangs Tie Your Hands/Be Friendly With All!," 1925. Image courtesy Swann Auction Galleries. Sold August 7, 2013 for $1,000.

MatherPoster2Final

Mather & Company, Designer Unknown, "Be a Tightwad!/Own Something!," 1925. Image courtesy Swann Auction Galleries. Sold August 7, 2013 for $3,800.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.