America’s celebration of freedom, July 4th, has come and gone once again, and in the wake of family BBQ indigestion, celebratory toast-induced hangovers, and firework after-images still painted across our vision, we’re sometimes ready to hang up our patriotism until the following July.
For me though, the 4th makes me think of one of my favorite posters of all time; one of the most iconic pieces of graphic design to ever come out of this amazing country:
So, who’s the man behind the ominously patriotic face of “Uncle Sam”? The character is based off of a meat-vendor named Samuel Wilson who supplied the U.S. Army during the War of 1812 with barrels stamped “U.S.”, hence the name “Uncle Sam”. The artist, James Montgomery Flagg, choose Wilson to be his muse for the poster for which he would eventually become famous, for Wilson’s dedication and commitment to helping his country. This selfless patriotic persona was perfect for the poster’s intended use in recruiting Americans in the preliminary stages of the U.S. entering World War I.
“I Want You For the U.S. Army” first appeared on July 6, 1916 as the cover illustration for the publication Leslie’s Weekly. Flagg, not one for modesty, at one point proclaimed it to be “the most famous poster in the world” as it sold a phenomenal 4 million copies alone between 1917 and 1918. Flagg even won praise from President Roosevelt for his “resourcefulness” in using himself as the model for the painting in order to save on overhead costs, and that his “method suggest[ed] Yankee forebears.”
The iconic “stern finger pointing” pose…
…that Flagg choose for his poster was actually taken from a recruitment poster for the British Army published three years prior by the English artist Alfred Leete. Leete’s poster depicts Lord Kitchener, then the Secretary of State for War, pointing at the viewer above the caption “Wants You”.
Flagg, however immodest, wasn’t far off in declaring his poster to be “the most famous poster in the world”. The memorable and moving image was eventually co-opted for recruitment posters for, amongst others, the Jewish Regiment, the Brazilian Integralism Nationalist movement, The Nazi French S.S., and even Smokey the Bear’s campaign against forest fires.
“I Want You” is still one of my favorite posters, both for its unwaveringly moving patriotic stance as well as its rich history. Hope you all had a great and safe holiday!
Let me know what you think? Is this the most famous poster in the World?