"And they thought we couldn’t fight”

World War I Liberty Loan posters
from the collection of kenneth t. dixon

january 7 - march 29, 2019

“And They Thought We Couldn't Fight - Victory Liberty Loan” Clyde Forsythe Printed by Ketterlinus, Philadelphia, 1918

“And They Thought We Couldn't Fight - Victory Liberty Loan”
Clyde Forsythe
Printed by Ketterlinus, Philadelphia, 1918

I got it in 1966 or ‘67. It must have been Christmas, because my sister and I both received one. They were crinkly, like they had been in someone’s attic for half a century. I unrolled mine from its cardboard tube, and there was the smiling doughboy, the head bandage, the clutch of German helmets, the golden-hour cloud rising behind him, as envisioned by the artist Clyde Forsythe. I was 12 or 13, still playing army in our neighborhood backyards in Stamford.

Over the years, I’ve sensed he might have been mugging for the artist and that the dazed smile belies tragedy, the loss of friends, the deeply disturbing carnage he saw in the waning days of the Great War, before the soldiers were told to ignore their shell shock, return home and get on with their lives.

On first look, the doughboy’s helmet told me World War I, and my mother, a collector who called herself a “junker” merely explained that she found them in her travels. My sister’s was a Howard Chandler Christy, an image of a scantily clad young woman hovering over a naval crew feverishly loading a deck gun, the US flag trailing behind her.

Another 50 years has passed, and with it, the 100th anniversary of the armistice that concluded the “War to End All Wars,” but which actually created the conditions for World War II. The millions of Americans who bought the five series of war bonds in the Liberty Loan drives raised two thirds of the United States’ $30 billion war budget in 1919 money.

People throughout the country were prodded by an early combination of art, propaganda and civic pride, with cities and towns around the country competing in the cause, with tiny, half-inch lapel buttons the badge of honor for non-combatants. After college, I had the doughboy framed, and it moved around with me. I didn’t expect to become a collector.

“Show Your Button” Anonymous Publisher not identified c. 1918

“Show Your Button”
Publisher not identified
c. 1918

In 1995, while working in the State Capitol as a reporter, I happened into a Hartford bookstore called The Jumping Frog, which in addition to books had racks of printed ephemera. The Liberty Loan posters I liked were relatively cheap, and I would stop by maybe once a month and buy another. Among the finest of the prints is the gorgeous Fourth Loan lithograph on linen featuring Lady Liberty, bald eagle beside her, leading the troops to the front in 1917.

Now, 100 years later, the posters are a glimpse of a simpler time, when the United States was waking up from its international slumber, flexing its muscle to turn the tide of the first world war. Now America's might isn't nearly as respected, or strategically understood at home and even among the troops fighting wars without a clear mission across the world.

—Kenneth T. Dixon

Kenneth T. Dixon is a nationally recognized reporter and columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.


The Gallery at Still River Editions has hosted national and regional photographers and artists since 1989. In spring 2011, after a brief hiatus from exhibiting new work, the gallery returned to hosting shows on a quarterly basis. The Gallery's mission is to show traditional and digital prints of photographs and fine artwork, and to be a center of creativity and connection in the Danbury area. 

The Gallery at Still River Editions is open during normal business hours 8:30 am - 5 pm Monday through Friday, and during posted hours for special events. The Gallery does not accept unsolicited submissions at this time.