In the midst of World War II, the war effort was reliant upon the purchase of war bonds by the American population. In 1942, the military could not hold off the encroaching armies without the support of Americans. Graphic designer Lawrence Beall Smith dramatically presented the necessity of war bonds to the public by showing the Nazi regime as a direct threat to American children. His poster features an illustration of two boys and a girl playing innocently in the grass, being overtaken by the shadow of a swastika. The subtitle, “Don’t let the shadow touch them,” reinforced the idea that the Nazis were closing in on America. Should people have chosen not to support the war effort through war bonds, neither these children, nor America would be able to escape the clutches of the Nazi regime.
The toys clutched by the children serve as potent symbols of America. The eldest boy holds a plane and maintains a protective gesture toward the boy holding an American flag. The presentation of the figures in this way reflects the actions and role of WWII pilots as both fighters and protectors of America. With the purchase of war bonds the boy’s plane, and more importantly American pilots, can continue to fight, weaken the growth of the shadow and the strength of the Nazi forces, and protecting the values of the nation and its children.
Initially commissioned by Abbott Laboratories, Smith’s poster was adapted for official use by the United States Department of Treasury and widely distributed by the U.S. Government Printing Office.
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.