Long-lost World War II posters on display

Grove City College will present a gallery show March 16 to 24 featuring a selection of vintage World War II propaganda posters that were “lost” for decades.

More than 170 posters designed to inspire Americans on the home front to support the war effort on their jobs, in their homes and in their hearts and minds were discovered last year in a locked drawer in the Rare Book Room of Grove City College’s Henry Buhl. The posters are representative of those that were widely distributed between 1941 and 1945 by the Office of Wartime Information to factories, schools, post offices and libraries.

“Fighting for Freedom: Grove City College’s World War II Exhibit” opens March 16 in the Art Gallery of the Pew Fine Arts Center on campus with an invitation-only reception. The exhibit is open to the public from: noon to 5 p.m. March 17, noon to 4 p.m. March 19, 20 and 23; 2 to 6 p.m. March 18; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 21; and 1 to 5 p.m. March 22. 

The posters were discovered last spring by College Archivist Hilary (Lewis ’09) Walczak, who was inventorying collections and artifacts stored in the library’s Rare Book Room. She came across the locked drawer, searched out the key and hit the jackpot. Some of the posters were never displayed and remained folded up as they had been when they were sent to the old library – now Carnegie Alumni Center – during the war years.

Neither current College Librarian Barbra (Bartos ’92) Munnell nor her predecessor, Diane Grundy ’65, who retired in 2013 after 44 years on the job, were aware of the posters’ existence. No one can say for sure, but speculation on campus is that they were among the items moved from Carnegie to Buhl Library after it was built in 1954. The late Isabel Forbes ’23 was librarian at the time of the move.

Walczak was elated and overwhelmed by the discovery. “It is very rare that you find a collection of this size in such great condition. Sometimes in this job you never know what you are going to come across. I am very pleased that someone took the time to save these instead of throwing them away. This was a very exciting find for the College and we are thrilled about the possibilities of what we can do with them,” Walczak said. 

Propaganda posters were one way the government issued orders to the civilian population in the war years. They bear messages encouraging sacrifice on the home front, increased production in the workplace, bond drives and the need to watch what one says about the movement of troops or work done in support of the war. 

The College’s collection includes some iconic posters – three of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms are represented along with calls to buy war bonds and avoid “careless talk” – and some true rarities, including the work of French graphic designer Jean Carlu and an appeal from the cast of Walt Disney’s “Bambi” to prevent forest fires. 

Their value is estimated in the tens of thousands of dollars, but as cultural and historical artifacts illustrating the role that civilians and community institutions like Grove City College played in supporting the war effort, they are priceless. 

College officials are still evaluating the posters and considering what to ultimately do with the collection. A digital library that can be accessed by students, scholars and the public is likely.

To see a gallery of some of the posters: www.gcc.edu/warposters.

Long-lost World War II posters on display

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