During World War II, poster competitions were held to solicit designs, under particular themes, to assist in the war effort. This poster, designed by Frederick Siebel, was submitted to alert Americans to the urgency of national security. For this contest each poster was subject to the scrutiny of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who acted as a judge. Siebel’s poster addressed the recent sinking of numerous ships off the U.S. coast. It was believed that spies had overheard open discussion of naval strategy by military personnel, which caused the tragic destruction of American military vessels and the needless deaths of American soldiers. To combat leaking information on the whereabouts of ships, the Office of War Information distributed Siebel’s poster nationwide to shipyards, army and navy posts, waterfront bars, and anywhere else they thought might be vulnerable to spying eyes and ears.
The drowning man pointing his finger at the guilty party surely resonated. The sailor confronts each viewer, implicating them directly in his death. Including the viewer into the poster’s message was a successful way to dissuade the divulging of military secrets. Who would want to be the person responsible for the countless deaths of so many fighting during World War II?
Siebel had a relatively prolific career, producing book illustrations for Amelia Bedelia, and advertisements for products including Captain Morgan, Mr. Clean and Canada Dry, but Someone Talked remains the artist’s most recognized work.
Julia Pelkofsky is a Master’s Fellow in the Department of Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She is currently working on her MA in the History of Decorative Arts and Design at Parsons, the New School for Design.