By Sherri Goudy
During WWI, the US Treasury Department headed by William Gibbs McAdoo spearheaded a campaign to enlist every American regardless of age, gender, or social status into the war effort. The war was proving to be an expensive endeavor, estimated at a cost of $32 Billion. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, the US had already shown their patriotism in conserving valuable resources in short supply and much demand. So, if a nation was already barely making ends meet, how do its citizens contribute $21.5 Billion to the war effort? The answer = war bonds.
In 1917, the plan to pay for the ever-increasing bill for the war was through a mix of taxation and borrowing from the American people. Though some prominent economists said the war should have been completely financed through taxation, McAdoo was not on board with this plan mainly because there was no way to know how much the war would cost. His plan was to create a “Liberty Loan” system in which the American people would be educated about bonds, how they would contribute to the war effort, and the importance of saving money. He also wanted to appeal to patriotism through one of the most ambitious advertising campaigns ever conducted. Lastly, his entire effort would rely on volunteer labor to avoid further debt.
The Liberty Loan campaign was first launched in April 1917, with 3 more campaigns in the fall of 1917, April 1918, and the last in October 1918. The first campaign promised a 3.5% rate of return, and the rate increased with each subsequent campaign. The loans were sold at various denominations, but the lowest was $50.
In order to make them accessible to families and even children who could not afford them at that cost, an installment plan was available. People could buy War Thrift Stamps at a rate on 25 cents.
Also referred to as “little baby bonds,” after 16 were collected, they could be affixed to a special card and either redeemed after 1923 for $5.00, or exchanged for a War Savings Stamp, which was also worth $5.00. Likewise, once 10 War Savings Stamps were collected, they could be exchanged for the $50 Liberty Bond. This ad in the Springfield Daily News shows what the Thrift Cards looked like.
Each of the campaigns as well as Thrift Stamp drives relied on various ways to advertise. Billboards, propaganda posters, and newspaper ads were the most common. The following series of ads from the Springfield Daily News use a variety of methods to appeal to the people of Clark County to contribute by purchasing Stamps or Bonds.
This ad states that everyone in Clark County should buy either bonds or savings stamps, and the image depicts that while “Liberty Loans” were the “big guns” of the campaign, thrift stamps are just as important and can even be thought of as the foundation of the effort.
This ad from January 8, 1918 states “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” and declares that “If we are to win the war, WE MUST WIN IT AS A UNITED PEOPLE… WAR SAVERS ARE LIFE SAVERS.”
In February 1918, this ad was published: “An Idle Dollar is a Slacker Dollar, but a Dollar Wasted in War Times is a Traitor Dollar.” Slackers referred mainly to draft dodgers.
In March 1918, the story broke of a Springfield boy, Hiram Taylor, who was killed overseas. This is just one of a few different ads which demanded that Clark County “prove their patriotism” and not let Taylor’s death have been in vain.
“Wise Patriotism” was the headline for this April 1918 ad which stated that “without patriotism life is an empty meaningless waste.”
Fear of losing the war and the death and destruction at the hands of the enemy on American soil were the tactics used in this ad from April 1918. The ad says, “if America and her allies fail it is just as certain as day follows night that America will be invaded and her homes laid in ruins.”
Mothers were making sacrifices by “giving their sons” to the war, so the least the rest of us can do is “lend our money.”
Appealing to the anniversary of entering the war, this ad appeals to those who should commemorate America’s entry “to uphold civilization and to make the world safe for democracy.”
This ad appeals to the religious majority in Clark County, to go to church and “pray for victory” then “but at least one $50 Liberty Bond.”
This ad makes its appeal to the immigrant communities in Clark county by urging them to “invest your money in liberty bonds” and are absolutely a “safe” investment “because they are guaranteed by the richest nation in the world.”
The Us wasn’t the only nation in the war using war bonds to finance their efforts. This ad from April 22, 1918 gives the results of the German campaign and asks its citizens “Are you as patriotic as the Germans? Are you worthy of liberty? Buy Liberty Bonds – They are the price of Freedom.”
The use of political cartoons were also popular ways to encourage Springfield Citizens to do their bit. This cartoon printed in the Springfield Daily News April 8, 1918 says, “If you can’t fight, help a fighter fight – Buy Liberty Bonds.”
The campaigns also relied on children to sell and buy savings stamps, using the boy scouts, ads geared specifically towards kids, and even a contest for a local child to see their picture in the paper and come to the newspaper office to receive a prize of 4 thrift stamps.
Women of Springfield contributed greatly to fundraising and war bond efforts. This list of signatures includes 50 women who contributed funds to the Clark County War Savings Committee was published in the Springfield Daily News with the headline “Women of Clark County Have Again Shown their Patriotism by Financing War Saving Campaign.”
This ad published on the last day of the 3rd Liberty Loan Campaign urges everyone to buy a war bond, with the assistance of an installment plan that even “President Wilson is Using.”
In total, the US government would borrow $17 Billion ($275 Billion in 2017 dollars) from all 4 of the Liberty Loan drives, and another $8.8 Billion in taxes. Over 20 million individuals had bought war bonds, which was impressive considering that the US only had about 24 million households at the time.
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