Outbreak of the war
End of the war
The poster as a medium of communication and propaganda

The poster had been used as a medium of communication for commercial purposes well before the First World War, and advertising art had already become established as a separate branch of art production. With the advent of war the poster became a modern vehicle of political content.

As a propaganda medium, posters were used principally on the home front. As wall newspapers they proclaimed official orders, regulated supplies of foodstuffs, mobilized the patriotic emotions of the nation and served to recruit volunteers. They could also be used to draw the public’s attention to collection drives and donation campaigns, and to relay politically slanted messages.

Posters produced during the war years primarily communicated messages connected to the wartime economy. Drawing on the tradition of consumer promotion, they now propagated austerity and sacrifice. A poster published by the borough authorities in Vienna in August 1914 exhorted citizens to plant winter vegetables in order to prevent food shortages: “Every patch of earth, every working man and woman must produce food. It is the duty of every thinking citizen to participate! Wrest from the soil what it is capable of yielding!”

Numerous posters appealed to the individual’s sense of duty to contribute to victory. War bonds were advertised as a way of reinforcing personal commitment to the cause. Posters were also used by the banks offering the bonds as well as state institutions and private initiatives to organize collections.

In poster propaganda, patriotic rhetoric could be translated into monumental images. The pictorial subjects appealed to the population to show unity; the multi-national empire was to face up to the external enemy as a united body. The solidarity of the Crown Lands and the sworn harmony between the nations that made up the empire were expressed in a demonstrative loyalty to the emperor.

In their choice of subject the war posters produced in Austria-Hungary took German war propaganda as their model. References to the other ethnic groups of the Habsburg Monarchy were marginal and appeared, if at all, on the posters produced by local associations and initiatives.

The posters tended to address the onlooker directly: figures and pairs of eyes that seemed to stand out from the pictorial surface and fix passers-by in their gaze were typical of the ‘psychological strategies’ and aims of these posters. However, their effect was contingent upon other propaganda media. The press campaigns created the horizon of understanding on which these pictorial metaphors were based. The subjects depicted in the posters defined the slogans more precisely, condensing content into a motif that was immediately comprehensible. Once a successful pictorial subject had been created it was passed on to other propaganda media, appearing as a patriotic postcard, on stamps or objects of everyday use such as matchboxes or tram tickets.

Translation: Sophie Kidd


Denscher, Bernhard, Gold gab ich für Eisen. Österreichische Kriegsplakate 1914-1918, Wien/München 1987

Eybl, Erik: Information. Propaganda. Kunst. Österreichisch-ungarische und französische Plakate des Ersten Weltkriegs, Wien 2010

Jaworsky, Rudolf: Deutsche und tschechiche Ansichten. Kollektive Identifikationsangebote auf Bildpostkarten in der späten Habrsburgermonarchie, Innsbruck/Wien/Bozen 2006, 127-131

Kämpfer, Frank: Plakat, poster, affiche, manifesto … Des Weltkriegs große bunte Bilder, in: Zühlke, Raoul (Hrsg.) Bildpropaganda im Ersten Weltkrieg, Hamburg 2000, 125-144

Verhey, Jeffrey: „Helft uns siegen“ – Die Bildsprache des Plakats im Ersten Weltkrieg, in: Spilker, Rolf/Ulrich, Bernd: Der Tod als Maschinist. Der industrialisierte Krieg 1914-1918. Eine Ausstellung des Museums Industriekultur Osnabrück im Rahmen des Jubiläums „350 Jahre Westfälischer Friede“ 17.Mai – 23.August 1998, 164-175


Contents related to this chapter


Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    Mobilisation of the civilian population

    During the "Gold for Iron” campaign, gold rings or jewellery donated to finance the war were exchanged for iron rings. The civilian population was called upon to play an active role in welfare and aid associations and to offer its services for the fatherland. Women and children collected clothes and blankets for the army and hospitals, and materials like wastepaper and iron for recycling. They knitted and sewed, and these "Liebesgaben” or charitable gifts were sent to the front to provide emotional encouragement to the troops.


  • Object


    All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930. It was the film of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name about the experiences of a soldier during the First World War. Remarque’s book and the film adaptation are classic anti-war statements. Alongside the patriotic, glorified heroic epics and “authentic” documentation of service for the fatherland, this was just one way in which the First World War was portrayed in literature and films – a medium that had come into being only twenty years before the outbreak of war.

  • Object

    Shortages and poverty

    When the population reacted to shortages of bread and flour in January 1915with panic buying, the Kriegs-Getreide-Vekehrsanstalt [Wartime Grain Trade Department] introduced ration cards. Individual quotas were determined and handed out on presentation of bread and flour ration cards. But even the allocated rations became more and more difficult to supply, and the cards became worthless.


  • Development

    Daily life on the (home) front

    How was daily life at home and on the front between 1914 and 1918? Was the life of a middle-class woman similar to that of a worker? Did officers experience warfare in the same way as other ranks? Or were the experiences of the population at home and the soldiers at the front too individual and diverse for generalisations?