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Interpreting the Evidence

Liberty Loan Poster

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    New York State
    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Liberty Loan Poster, World War I, Albany, NY, May 10, 1917 in Main Image Viewer
  2. Load Liberty Loan Poster, World War I, Albany, NY, May 10, 1917 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Poster describing the Liberty Loan of 1917, Albany, NY, May 10, 1917.
Historical Context
As the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, President Wilson and his economic advisors had to find a way to finance the war.  In addition to increased taxation, one of the most successful tactics used to bring money in for the war effort, was the sale of war “liberty” bonds. Secretary of the Treasury, William McAdoo, launched a series of Liberty Loan drives to encourage regular citizens to loan their money to the government to help America win the war.  Propaganda posters flooded the nation urging people to do their part.  The Boy Scouts were used to help sell bonds.  Banks put out posters and pleas to try to convince people to do what they could to help out.  Movie stars were used to draw in support for the drives.  The bonds were similar to what savings bonds are today.  Different values were available for purchase, so that all people could contribute no matter what their financial situation was.  The government had five huge rallies throughout the time the U.S. was involved in the war and as it pushed ideas of loyalty and doing one’s bit for the war, the American people loaned their money in huge quantities.  For the 1917 drive, McAdoo claimed that a man who couldn’t loan his government $1.25 per week with 4% interest had no right to be a U.S. citizen.  Tactics like this, mixed with all of the advertising, propaganda, and rallies, allowed the U.S. to raise over $20 billion, 30% of which was from people earning less than $2,000 per year. 
Essential Question
How do citizens contribute to a war effort?
Check for Understanding
Identify the key ideas in this poster and explain the purpose of the libery loan.
Historical Challenges
What movie stars were used to help sell the bonds? How do movie stars help with fundraising today? Is this an effective strategy?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: Look at the 1920 census. Find out how many people there were in the United States at the time. If every person had contributed $2, how much could the country have raised? If every person had contributed $100, how much could the nation have raised? $20 billion was actually raised, so if you break that down to a per person ratio, how much would each person have had to contribute?