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San Antonio Public Library World War Poster Collection

Many posters from the collection of Sen. Harry Hertzberg


World War I propaganda posters were powerful tools used by governments to shape public opinion, encourage enlistment, and promote various wartime efforts. Common themes included patriotism, recruitment, conservation, and financial support for the war. Some posters depicted enemy forces negatively, emphasizing the need for citizens to contribute to the war effort.  Popular symbols such as Uncle Sam, patriotic imagery, and appeals to national pride were frequently featured. Posters also urged civilians to buy war bonds and conserve resources in support of the Red Cross and the troops on the front lines. The visual styles ranged from realistic illustrations to symbolic and allegorical representations. 

Harry Hertzberg (1884-1940) was a well-known San Antonio lawyer, civic leader and state senator.  Hertzberg was a man with varied interests and hobbies who is perhaps best known for his circus collection and personal library. Over the course of many years, Hertzberg acquired over 500 World War I posters.  An exhibition of 78 of these posters was first put on display at the Witte Museum in November 1933, 15 years after the Armistice which saw the end to the “Great War.” After Hertzberg’s untimely death in 1940, the Harry Hertzberg estate bequeathed his vast assortment of circus memorabilia and his eclectic book & poster collection to the San Antonio Public Library where he had served as a member on the board of trustees.  His book collection and World War I posters are now housed in the Texana/Genealogy room of the Central Library. 

In 2008, for the first time in 75 years, select posters from Hertzberg’s collection were exhibited at the Central Library. This exhibition “The Winds and Words of War: World War I Posters and Prints from the San Antonio Public Library Collection” was accompanied by an exhibition catalog of the same title.  The exhibition received the National Endowment Traveling Masterpiece grant in 2008 from Texas Congressman Charlie Gonzales and toured for over four years (2008-2012) in eight states across the United States.  After their return, they were again displayed at the Central Library to commemorate Armistice Day in November 2013.   

Through the sponsorship and support of the San Antonio Public Library Foundation and the Bexar County Commissioners Court, a Bexar County Tour (2016-2017) and International Tour (2017-2018) was organized.  The exhibition received a large grant from the Bexar County Commissioners Court and made its way to Europe to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of America’s entry as an ally and the Armistice signing on November 11, 1918.  For two years the exhibition traveled internationally to six museums and libraries in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.  It received recognition from the United States WWI Centennial Commission, Texas WWI Commission, French Legion of Honor Centennial Commission and the WWI Commission of the United Kingdom.  At the conclusion of the European tour, the Central Library hosted a “Welcome Home!” exhibit from September-October 2019 to once again showcase the collection.  


Commissioned by the U.S. Committee on Public Information, more than 300 of America’s most famous illustrators, cartoonists, designers, and fine artists donated their services to create more than 700 posters in an effort to build patriotism, raise funds for war bonds, encourage enlistment, and increase volunteerism during World War I. 

The posters were created by a group of early twentieth-century American artists, among them Charles Dana Gibson, Howard Chandler Christy, James Montgomery Flagg,  J. C. Leyendecker, Guy Lipscombe, Charles Buckle Falls, Haskell Coffin, and Norman Rockwell. The lithographs' heroic images and patriotic slogans depicted military and civilian effort and sacrifice, aiming to inspire young men and women to enlist, and donate time or money to support the soldiers and nurses during a trying time in American history. A small portion of the collection is featured below.

The posters are both testaments to the people who volunteered their service and excellent examples of the period's advertising strategies and graphic design.

Scope and Content

This collection consists of propaganda posters from World War I, Red Cross posters during and shortly after World War I, and a campaign poster for Theodore Roosevelt from 1904, all collected by Harry Hertzberg during his lifetime. The World War I and Red Cross materials cover the years 1917 to 1920 and are the bulk of the collection. The World War II and Marshall Plan posters were added to this collection in subsequent years. 

Organization of the Collection

The collection is arranged into eight series:   

  • Series 1: Food Supply and Home Front, 1917-1943, undated (bulk 1917-1918) 
  • Series 2: Recruiting and Enlistment, 1913-1943, undated (bulk 1917-1918) 
  • Series 3: Patriotism and Propaganda, 1904-1942, undated (bulk 1917-1918) 
  • Series 4: War Bonds and Funds, 1917-1919, undated 
  • Series 5: Medical, Nursing and the Red Cross, 1917-1918, undated 
  • Series 6: Industrial Production, undated 
  • Series 7: Overseas Relief, undated 
  • Series 8: Marshall Plan, 1950, undated 

Finding Aid

Click on the image below to view the Guide to the Collection, available through the Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) website.