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American Women: Resources from the Prints & Photographs Collections

Advertising & Propaganda

Eating chocolate.1896. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Those with wares to sell or propaganda to purvey have long tapped the potential that first printmaking and then photography provided for inexpensive and rapid dissemination of images. Although written language is seldom completely absent from broadsides, posters, and other advertising media, the imagery used on such materials was designed to catch the eye and communicate in a manner that often conveyed several messages at once. The juxtaposition of words and images, originally intended to pique viewers' interest, can also point to new avenues for research.

The Prints & Photographs Division has substantial collections of images used to persuade, in a variety of formats:

  • Its unparalleled poster collections contain items used to advertise events, products, and ideas ranging from theatrical performances to recruitment for war work, from household goods to women's liberation.
  • Graphic ephemera such as pictorial package labels suggest the ways in which an industrializing consumer culture associated women and women's concerns with particular products.
  • Photographs used directly for display purposes or to incorporate into advertising copy, mostly acquired through copyright deposit, are scattered throughout the collections, usually without the advertising copy that formed a part of the final product.

The following "Advertising & Propaganda" collections are highlighted in these sections of the guide:

  • Posters
    Beginning in the 1890s, poster design flourished, as artists began to work in the medium. Women were early contributors to this form of applied graphic art. The Library's holdings are organized into categories according to the source, promotional goal, and/or prominent characteristics of the posters.
  • Graphic Ephemera
    As the nineteenth century progressed, Americans' graphic universe was populated by the colorful packaging increasingly used to market commercial goods.