The posters of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), iconic for their distinct style and direct messages, inspired Americans in the 1930s and ’40s—and 79 years later, their vintage charm appeals to a new generation of Americans, particularly on Pinterest.
On May 6, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that created the WPA, a federal assistance program aimed at putting Americans back to work at a time when unemployment was near 20 percent. At its peak, it employed 3.3. million Americans.
The WPA’s legacy is everywhere—its workers built or worked on hundreds of thousands of infrastructure projects, from roads and bridges to schools, parks, and hospitals.
The WPA also employed artists to create thousands of posters that promoted social ideals of the time as well as federal programs supporting education, culture, health, safety, and tourism.
As described by Posters for the People, a traveling exhibition about WPA posters, “Through their distinct imagery and clear and simple messages, the posters of the WPA provide a unique snapshot of an important era in America’s past.”
Online today, the messages that tend to resonate are those about travel and reading. Here’s a sampling of 10 of the most popular, pinnable posters.
2. A trip around the world
3. Understanding the arts
4. John is not really dull
5. See America—caverns
6. Be kind to books
7. Spare our trees
8. Read books in March
9. Wild life
10. Once upon a time
All images courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Source links: See America—Montana; A trip around the world; Understanding the arts; John is not really dull; See America—caverns; Be kind to books; Spare our trees; Read books in March; Wild life; Once upon a time.
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