1917 April 13

Committee on Public Information Created: Federal Propaganda Agency in WWI


The Committee on Public Information (CPI), headed by journalist George Creel, was the official government agency in charge of information (some called it propaganda) about the World War I effort. It was created on this day by President Woodrow Wilson through executive order. The CPI promoted the war effort in order to counter widespread opposition throughout American society. Its activities included appointing 75,000 “Four Minute Men” who gave short four-minute talks about the war effort at public events, in theaters, and other available occasions. The worst aspects of the CPI’s efforts included its vicious anti-German propaganda, featuring offensive stereotypes of “The Hun” as a brutal and inhumane monster. One film, for example, was entitled Beast of Berlin, with a poster depicting an ape-like German blared “Destroy This Mad Brute.”

German atrocities were grossly exaggerated by the CPI in order to rouse anti-German and pro-war sentiment. In that respect, the CPI helped to whip up the anti-immigrant views, anti-radicalism hysteria and civil liberties violations that marked the war years and the post-war Red Scare. Its Division of Pictorial Publicity produced and distributed posters about different aspects of the war effort: recruitment, war bonds, saving food, and so on. The most famous was the Uncle Sam “I Want You” recruiting poster that immediately became an American icon. The CPI also organized events directed at ensuring the loyalty of particular ethnic groups such as Irish-Americans and German-Americans.

Read Creel’s own account: George Creel, How We Advertised America (1920)

Learn more about Creel and the CPI: http://missourioverthere.blogspot.com/2012/10/george-creel-and-committee-on-public.html

View World War I posters at the Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/wwipos/

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