The Colorful Posters That Motivated Jazz-Age Workers To Strive

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

The Colorful Posters That Motivated Jazz-Age Workers To Strive

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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. 

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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.

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