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Presidential Propaganda in World War I

  • Stephen Ponder
Chapter

Abstract

World War I was the first of the twentieth-century wars in which the federal government deployed recognizably modern techniques of mass persuasion to rally public support for the war effort. When the United States entered the war in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson created the nation’s first ministry of information, the Committee on Public Information (CPI), to appeal to citizens in their newspapers, magazines, theaters, libraries, schools, and homes. Under its assertive director, George Creel, the CPI launched an extraordinary promotional campaign, the legacy of which has been debated ever since.1 At the same time, the Wilson administration vigorously wielded its wartime emergency powers to try to stifle the flow of sensitive information and to suppress dissenting views thought likely to undermine the war effort at home or on the battlefield.2

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Notes

  1. 1.
    For an overview, see James D. Startt, “The Media and National Crises, 1917–1945,” in William David Sloan and James D. Startt, eds., The Media in America: A History, 3rd ed. (Northport, Ala.: Vision Press, 1996), 386–97. The definitive account of the Committee on Public Information is Vaughn, Holding Fast the Inner Lines. Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Harry N. Scheiber, The Wilson Administration and Civil Liberties, 1917–1921 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1960),Google Scholar
  3. and Donald Johnson, “Wilson, Burleson and Censorship in the First World War,” Journal of Southern History 28 (February 1962): 46—58,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. as well as James R. Mock, Censorship 1911 (Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, 1941).Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    George Creel, Rebel at Large: Recolledions of Fifly Crowded Years (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947), 157. Creel’s involvement in censorship is described in Vaughn, Holding Fast the Inner Lines, 214–32.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    Gary Dean Best, The Critical Press and the New Deal: The Press and Presidential Power, 1933–1938 (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1993), 6–8.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Neil A. Wynn, From Progressivism to Prosperity: World War I and American Society (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1986), xvi–xix.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 1—41, describes the splintering of American society prior to the war years.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    See correspondence from House to Wilson, 31 December 1916; Wilson to Howard, 2 January 1917; Howard to Wilson, 5 January 1917, and Wilson to Howard, 5 January 1917, in Link, Papers of Woodrow Wilson, 40:374–5, 381–2, 412. See also Robert E. Burke, “The Scripps West Coast Newspapers and the Election of 1916,” in A Celebration of E. W Scripps: His Life, Works and Heritage (Athens, Ohio: Scripps School of Journalism, 1990).Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    For overviews of the congressional debate on the Espionage Act, see Harry R. Scheiber, The Wilson Administration and Civil Liberties (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1960), 11—19,Google Scholar
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  12. 17.
    John Morton Blum, Woodrow Wilson and the Politics of Morality (Boston: Little, Brown, 1956), 144.Google Scholar
  13. 19.
    The quotation is from Harold Lasswell, Propaganda Techniques in the World War (New York: Alfred P. Knopf, 1927), 2.Google Scholar
  14. 20.
    The quotation is from George Creel, How We Advertised America (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1920), 4.Google Scholar
  15. 30.
    For examples of Wilson’s written support for Creel and the CPI, see Wilson to Creel, 17 May 1917, in Link, Papers of Woodrow Wilson, 42:304–13. See also James R. Mock and Cedric Larson, Words That Won the War: The Story of the Committee on Public Information, 1917–1919 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1939), 92.Google Scholar
  16. 41.
    The Food Administration has received limited scholarly attention. For the most comprehensive account, see George H. Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover: Master of Emergencies, 1917–1918 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996).Google Scholar
  17. Prior to Nash, the most recent book-length study was that of Maxcy Robson Dickson, The Food Front in World War I (Washington, D.C.: American Council on Public Affairs, 1944).Google Scholar
  18. The official history, published by the Hoover Institution, is that of William Clinton Mullendore, History of the United States Food Administration, 1911–1919 (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1941.)Google Scholar
  19. For a useful but brief overview, see Craig Lloyd, Aggressive Introvert: A Study of Herbert Hoover and Public Relations Management, 1912–1932 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1972), 45–52.Google Scholar
  20. 42.
    Robert Higgs, Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in American Government (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 137–8.Google Scholar
  21. 43.
    This summarizes the assessment given to the Cabinet by David Houston, Wilson’s secretary of agriculture, in April 1917. See Houston, Eight Years with Wilson’s Cabinet, 1:256–66, entry for 9 April 1917, and Cronon, The Cabinet Diaries of Josephus Daniels, entries of 8 and 9 May 1917, 148–9. See also Mullendore, History of the United States Food Administration, 47–50, and Herbert Hoover, An American Epic, 4 vols. (Chicago: Henry Regnery 1960), 2:1–28.Google Scholar
  22. 44.
    The quotation is from Hoover to Emile Franqui, 14 November 1914, reprinted in George I. Gay ed. Public Relations of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, 2 vols. (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1929), 1:13–4.Google Scholar
  23. 45.
    For a comprehensive discussion of Hoover’s early humanitarian campaigns and his enthusiasm for publicity, see George H. Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover. The Humanitarian, 1914–1911 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988). For Hoover’s own account of the Belgian relief campaign, see The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover:Years of Adventure, 1814–1920, 3 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1951), 1:152–216.Google Scholar
  24. 49.
    The quotation is from Will Irwin, “First Aid to America: How Civilians Must Get Together and Get Behind Strong Leaders,” Saturday Evening Post 189 (24 March 1917): 6.Google Scholar
  25. 52.
    “Women Food Savers Want Hoover as Head; National League Expects a Million Housewives to Help Conserve Supplies,” New York Times, 3 May 1917, 6. “Womens’ Groups Express Support,” New York Times, 22 May 1917, 12. Ida Husted Harper, The History of Woman Suffrage, 6 vols. (New York: J. J. Little and Ives, 1922), 5:535–6.Google Scholar
  26. 53.
    “President Tells of Food News,” New York Times, 20 May 1917, 1. Witold S. Sworakowski, “Herbert Hoover: Launching the food Administration, 1917,” in Lawrence E. Gelfand, ed., Herbert Hoover:The Great War and its Aftermath, 1914–1923 (Iowa City, Ia: University of Iowa Press, 1979), 40–60. For the text of Wilson’s statement, see Link, Papers of Woodrow Wilson, 42:342–6.Google Scholar
  27. 56.
    The quotation is from Wilson to Hoover, 12 June 1917, in Francis William O’Brien, The Hoover-Wilson Wartime Correspondence (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1974), 28—9. For the outline of the campaign, see correspondence between Wilson and Hoover, 12 June 1917, in Link, Papers of Woodrow Wilson, 42:480–6. See also “Wilson Orders Hoover to Start,” New York Times, 17 June 1917, l;and subsequent stories on 18, 19, and 20 June 1917.Google Scholar
  28. 61.
    See, for example, Harris Dickson, “Save and Serve With Hoover,” Collier’s Weekly 59 (11 August 1917): 5–7, 32;Google Scholar
  29. Herbert Hoover,”What I Would Like Women to Do,” Ladies Home Journal 34 (August 1917): 25, and James H. Collins, “The Food Pledge,” McClure’s, November 1917: 70.Google Scholar
  30. 63.
    The organization of the food conservation pledge campaign is described in Edgar Eugene Robinson and Paul Carroll Edwards, eds. The Memoirs of Ray Lyman Wilbur (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1960), 258—61. Mullendore, History of the United States Food Administration, 86–7.Google Scholar
  31. 76.
    Albert N. Merritt, Wartime Control of Distribution of Foods (New York: Macmillan, 1920), vi. Mock and Larson, Words That Won the War, 92. Bean, “George Creel and His Critics,” 82. Vaughn, Holding Fast the Inner Lines, 199.Google Scholar
  32. 78.
    Dickson, The Food Front in World War I, 13, 120–28.The $19 million estimate is from Mullendore, A History of the Food Administration, 89–90. See also David Burner, Herbert Hoover: A Public Life (New York: Alfred P. Knopf, 1979), 100–101.Google Scholar
  33. 82.
    The quotation is from Will Irwin, Propaganda and the News (New York: Whittlesey House, 1936), 186.Google Scholar
  34. 83.
    The phrase is from Stephen Fox, The Mirror Makers (New York: Vintage, 1984), 79—117.Google Scholar
  35. However, Daniel Pope, “The Advertising Industry and World War I,” Public Historian 2 (Spring 1980): 4—25, argues that the advertising volunteers were motivated less by idealism than a wish to take advantage of patriotic fervor to enhance the security and prestige of the industry itself.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 84.
    Minna Lewinson and Henry Beetle Hough, A History of the Services Rendered to the Public by the American Press During the Year 1911 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1918), 15.Google Scholar
  37. 86.
    Erika G. King, “Exposing the ‘Age of Lies’: The Propaganda Menace as Portrayed by American Magazines in the Aftermath of World War I.” Journal of American Culture 21 (Spring 1989): 35—40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 92.
    Robert F. Himmelberg, “Hoover’s Public Image, 1919–1920: The Emergence of a Public Figure and a Sign of the Times,” in Gelfand, Herbert Hoover: The Great War and its Aftermath, 209–32. On Hoover’s popularity after the war, see Burner, Herbert Hoover: A Public Life 153–4, and Gary Dean Best, The Politics of American Individualism: Herbert Hoover in Transition, 1918–1921 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975), 56.Google Scholar

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© Stephen Ponder 1998

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  • Stephen Ponder

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