The Relentless WWII War Bond Propaganda Could Be Really Irritating

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
April 30 2014 12:30 PM

The Relentless WWII War Bond Propaganda Could Be Really Irritating

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.

Propaganda from war bond drives during World War I and World War II—colorful, insistent, and guilt-inducing—plays a big part in our visual sense of the history of the home front. These pages, from a survey conducted by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, give us a rare chance to see how some people really felt about war bond advertising during the World War II.

The U.S. government turned to war bonds as a way to fund the immense investment in military production and personnel mobilization. There were some negative consequences of the mass campaign to sell Liberty Bonds during World War I, with some citizens experiencing bullying and public shaming. (Nonbuyers in some locations had their homes painted yellow, for instance.)


Historian James J. Kimble writes that the government hoped to learn from this experience when it came to planning their World War II efforts, quoting Treasury officials who decreed: “There should be no ‘drive’ psychology, no hysteria, and no devices to honor purchasers that would stigmatize non-purchasers.” Instead, the government mounted a near-constant ad campaign, with newspapers, radio, billboards, and magazines donating over $180 million in advertising space.

The revised approach seems to have worked. Citizen responses to the bureau’s questions about war bonds don’t mention harassment or stigma. Instead, respondents found fault with the constant presence of bond advertisements, critiquing the very need for a marketing-driven approach to selling patriotic duty. “I feel that everyone knows what the boys are doing and should buy them anyway,” one citizen replied.

And some respondents just didn’t like the irritation of “turning the radio on and hav[ing] some long haired nincompoop urging you, in a rather high falsetto to buy more bonds .… We work, and in our leisure moments we want to hear something interesting.”

Despite any annoyance some Americans might have felt, by the end of the war around 85 million of them had purchased war bonds, affording the federal government $185.7 billion.


National Archives.


National Archives.


National Archives.


National Archives.



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.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

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

The XX Factor

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

So they added a little self-immolation.

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  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.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
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.