From art to advertising: The history of the poster

Uncle Sam’s intense gaze is inescapable in an image where his outstretched index finger conveys a clear message: “I want you for the US Army.”

The 1917 poster reminded young people of their patriotic duty to fight for their country in World War I. Designed by New Yorker James Montgomery Flagg, who is said to have modeled Uncle Sam on his own face, the US Army also advertised with this poster during World War II, and still does to this day. The cult ad is world famous.

So it is no coincidence that the Folkwang Museum in Essen, in western Germany, has chosen “We love you!” as the title of its current exhibition on the history of posters, which features cartoon-derived designs, illustrations and historical photographs from the 18th century to the present, along with perspectives for the future.

After all, according to curator Rene Grohnert, posters will always exist, even when they take digital form. He firmly believes in the saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Origins of ancient stone tablets

The ancestors of the poster were stone tablets on which the ancient Egyptians engraved symbols.

The Romans placed wooden plaques with public notices in busy squares, and in the Middle Ages, billboard-like notices were hung in market squares or in front of churches.

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