A Spirit of Sacrifice: New York State in the First World War (logo) NYSM Logo

New York State and its citizens played a critical role in the United States’ efforts during World War I. Both on the battlefield and on the home front, through industrial production as well as civic participation and debate, New Yorkers had a significant impact on the shaping of these events. By the end of the war, the Empire State would lead in the number of soldiers, tonnage of supplies, and money raised to support America’s efforts.


While New York’s contributions surpassed other states, its citizens were hardly united in their opinions about the conflict. These disagreements raised doubts about the nation’s ability to fight this war, and called into question the loyalty of many of its citizens. These divisions within New York and across the nation needed to be overcome if the nation hoped to unite its citizens behind the war effort.


Posters, iconic artifacts, images, and documents from the collections of the New York State Museum, New York State Library, and New York State Archives—as well as across the state—help tell the story of New York in “The Great War.”











 “New York’s pride is in the pride of things done. Her leadership is no more due to her great wealth or her large population than to the patriotism of her citizens and the uses to which her wealth is put. In every war in which this country has engaged, she has shown a spirit of sacrifice that has made her preeminent among the States.”

Governor Charles S. Whitman, April 6, 1918


During World War I, governments systematically employed visual propaganda on an unprecedented scale in order to mobilize millions of citizens for the war effort, to sway popular opinion about the conflict, and to unify support for the war. The era is frequently referred to as the golden age of poster illustration. Poster artists were employed by governments on all sides to inspire their citizens. In the United States, millions of copies of posters, often by some of the nation’s leading illustrators, were printed to rally the nation to the war effort. Their visually stunning illustrations immediately conveyed important messages without relying on much text. In this vein, the posters featured in this exhibition help explain key moments in the history of New York State in the First World War.


Uncle Sam

This recruiting poster featuring Uncle Sam became an iconic call to arms. Over four million copies of the poster were printed.


"I Want You" (1917)

Artist: James Montgomery Flagg

Printer: Leslie-Judge Co., New York

Publisher: United States Army

New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections



James Montgomery Flagg (1877–1960)

Born in Pelham Manor, Westchester County, Flagg became arguably the most famous poster artist of the First World War. He attended the Art Students League of New York and studied in London and Paris. When the United States entered the war, Flagg was working as a marketing illustrator. He created his most famous work, one of 46 he produced for the war effort, using his own face as a model for Uncle Sam. Flagg was appointed New York State’s official military artist by Governor Charles S. Whitman on June 19, 1917.



1917 newspaper photograph titled, “James Montgomery Flagg appointed official artist in New York.”

Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration



Visual Persuasion

Few posters more readily illustrate the visual power of posters in shaping the American people’s outlook on the First World War. ”Enlist,” alluding to the civilian casualties aboard the Lusitania, depicts a woman cradling an infant as both sink beneath the ocean surface. Such graphic depictions were clearly intended to inspire hatred towards the atrocities committed by Germany.



“Enlist” (ca. 1916)

Artist: Fred Spear

Printer: Sacketts & Wilhelms Corporation, New York

Publisher: Boston Public Safety Committee

New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections



Division of Pictorial Publicity (DPP)

This poster was among the first created by the DPP and was one of ten selected by the Liberty Loan Committee—most of which depicted the supposed savagery of the German soldiers. British propagandists inundated Americans with tales of German atrocities. While some American journalists did challenge the extent of the British accounts, the stories helped turn American public opinion against the Germans by 1917.




"Beat Back the Hun with Liberty Bonds” (1918)

Artist: Frederick Strothmann

Printer: Unknown

Publisher: Treasury Department

New York State Library, Manuscripts and Special Collections


This world-class collection of World War I posters numbers more than 3,600 works from the United States and around the world; this exhibition features several of these posters. The collection was amassed mainly by Albany residents: Cuyler Reynolds, Albany city historian and the first curator of what is now the Albany Institute of History and Art; and Benjamin Walworth Arnold, an entrepreneur who ran his family’s lumber business and was an avid collector. Arnold was Chairman of the Albany County Home Defense Council and his daughter served on the Western Front as a Red Cross nurse.


Cuyler Reynolds


Benjamin Walworth Arnold


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