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World War II Collection

Identifier: spe-w00061

Scope and Contents

The WWII Collection brings together posters with Soviet anti-Nazi cartoons, artifacts and ephemera related to the war effort. The bulk of the collection is comprised of posters created in the U.S. between 1939 and 1946, but includes posters from Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Not all of the artists or producing organizations have been identified for all of the items in this collection.


  • 1939 - 1946


Language of Materials

Most of the items use the English language, but there are also items in Dutch, French, German and Russian.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restriction.

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.

Biographical / Historical

World War II (WWII) was a global war that spanned 1939-1945 and involved more than 100 million people from over 30 nations. The United States entered the war in 1941 following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. By the first of January 1942, the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and China along with 22 smaller or exiled governments issued the Declaration by United Nations that affirmed the Atlantic Charter and the goals of the Allied nations in Europe and the Pacific.

World War II posters helped to mobilize people in the United States and other nations. The inexpensive and accessible format enabled messages to be widely disseminated. Government agencies, businesses, and private organizations used the fine and commercial arts in conjunction with simple slogans to link the military front with the home front and call upon men and women to enlist, buy bonds, conserve, boost production and/or refrain from discussing war preparations. In June 1942, the Office of War Information (OWI) was created to control the content and imagery of U.S. government messages.

The OWI developed six themes:

1. The Nature of the Enemy

2. The Nature of our Allies

3. The Need to Work

4. The Need to Fight

5. The Need to Sacrifice

6. The Americans—what we are fighting for: the four freedoms, the principles of the Atlantic Charter, democracy, and an end to discrimination against races and religions.1

The Ministry of Information in Great Britain and VOKS, the Wartime Information Board in Canada and the Soviet Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries operated along similar lines as the OWI.

1 Alan Cranston to Norman Ferguson, 17 November 1942, folder: California trip, box 1078, entry E222, NC 148, RG 208, National Archives at College Park (NACP).


10 Linear Feet (in 5 boxes and 82 oversize folders, including 675 posters, 42 artworks, 1 artifact, 2 scrapbooks)


The WWII Collection brings together posters, cartoons and ephemera related to the war effort. The bulk of the collection is comprised of posters created in the U.S. between 1939 and 1946, but also includes several posters from Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands and New Zealand. These range from recruitment calls from the various branches of the military to home front initiatives by the Civilian Production Administration, the Office of War Information and the U.S. Department of the Treasury. A considerable number of posters were created by renowned artists such as Thomas Hart Benton, James Montgomery Flagg, Norman Rockwell, Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) and Ben Shahn. The ephemera items consist of a range of artifacts, handbills, pamphlets and scrapbooks. The folio of 42 prints “Anti-Nazi cartoons,” was produced as a limited edition by Moscow, VOKS, 1943.


The collection is arranged into three Series:

Series 1: Posters, 1939-1946

Series 2: Soviet Cartoon Folio,1943

Series 3: Artifacts and Ephemera, 1940-1944

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials found in collection; no documentation concerning the provenance of these materials exists, except for posters 2019.19-2019.45 that were donated by Rev. Martin L. Deppe in 2019.

Related Materials

Office of Civilian Defense Records

Rollins, Joseph W., Jr. Papers

Thatcher, Harold Papers

Wertz, Irma Cayton Papers

Westbrook, Shelby Papers

Winslow, Eugene Papers

The following Neighborhood Collections include some WWII materials and/or photographs:

Chatham-Grand Crossing Community Collection, Chicago City-wide Collection, Chicago Loop Alliance Collection, Englewood Community Collection, Lawndale-Crawford Community Collection, South Chicago Community Collection, South Shore Community Collection, West [Near West] Side Community Collection and West Garfield Park Community Collection.

Guide to the World War II Collection
Michelle McCoy
2017, 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2021: Collection items re-inventoried in 2017 with additions added in 2019. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Michelle McCoy,

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository

Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States
(312) 747-4875