The Uncle Sam “Hush” Poster and the One That Never Was

This is the second of three posts about the Uncle Sam poster for the Security of War Information campaign.

Today’s post is written by Daniel Dancis, an Archivist in the Textual Processing Branch at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

Uncle Sam by Leon Helguera (left). Uncle Sam by Robert S. Sloan (right).

Today, in the holdings of the National Archives there exist two similar portraits of Uncle Sam holding his finger to his lips in a gesture of silence. In both images he occupies the same space within the picture and appears with his signature bow tie, top hat, bushy eyebrows, and chin whiskers. Yet the face of each Uncle Sam is distinctly different: one is stone-faced and thin, the other softer, with a gentler gaze. The works of two artists hired at separate times for the same project by the Office of War Information (OWI) during World War II, one image was rejected and never intended to be seen while the other was approved and displayed widely in its day. The explanation for the existence of these two similar yet different pictures resides in the records of OWI’s Graphics Division, specifically Production Sheet # 426, Job 56 which reveals the sequence of events that culminated in the selection of one of these images over the other. 

Robert S. Sloan and the illustration that looked too much like General Marshall

Uncle Sam (Information on the back: Pd for. Not used. Rejected.) [Robert S. Sloan]. NAID 7387462

In an internal memorandum dated December 2, 1942 regarding the status of posters for the Security of War Information campaign, Francis E. Brennan, Chief of the Graphics Division of OWI, reports to Ken Beirn, Chairman of the Security Committee, that the “Uncle Sam poster by Robert Sloan (which is a swell job, incidentally) will be finished by the beginning of next week.” This information is confirmed in a production sheet for the artwork which shows that Sloan’s illustration is received on December 1, 1942 and seven days later the completed poster is sent to Washington, DC from OWI’s graphics office in New York City.

However, at some point in the following weeks a problem arises. In early February 1943, Maria Sutherland, Head of the Research and Traffic Section, addresses an office memorandum to Beirn that reads “You will notice that changes have been made to make Uncle Sam look less like General Marshall.” The following day, Beirn responds “This is still too much like Marshall. Suggest you start all over again as originally planned.”

Two months later, in April 1943, the issue still has not been resolved:

We are to contact Robert Sloan (and) have face of Uncle Sam redone to look less like General Marshall as per phone conversation with Wash(ington). 4/9.

As per (Maria) Sutherland 4/10 – must start from scratch on this. Old one won’t do at all. – Excerpt from Production Sheet 426A, Job # 56, dated April 9 – May 25, 1943

The production sheets and the related memorandums cited above provide some clues about the creation of the artwork for this poster yet still leave many questions unanswered: is the general in question, actually the General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, at the time? If so, was Sloan’s first illustration of Uncle Sam made intentionally to resemble Marshall or was this by chance? If it is in fact General George C. Marshall, why did this matter and to whom? Finally, how many versions of the illustration did Sloan create and of these, which version (above) is in the custody of the National Archives: the original submitted in December 1942, the changed version discussed in the memorandums from Feb 4-5? Or perhaps yet another version that the production sheets refer to on April 9-10?

The resemblance of Sloan’s Uncle Sam to George C. Marshall can seem either tenuous or believable depending on which image is selected for comparison. In the side-by-side example below, similarities are evident around the eyes and brow, somewhat in the shape of the nose and nostrils, and in the lines that converge at the jaw. Even the head is tilted at the same angle. Marshall did have a mole on his cheek, more noticeable in other photographs, and this also features prominently in Sloan’s Uncle Sam, albeit slightly off center and on the opposite cheek. Whatever the case may be, Sloan’s artwork was ultimately rejected on this basis and OWI looked elsewhere for an artist to complete the poster. 

Above: side-by-side comparison of Sloan’s portrait (right) and a photograph of Gen. George C. Marshall (left). The photograph of Marshall is cropped from NAID 197180.

Exit Sloan; Enter Towne, Rockwell, and Helguera

We are to contact Robert Sloan (and) have face of Uncle Sam redone to look less like General Marshall as per phone conversation with Wash(ington). 4/9.

As per (Maria) Sutherland 4/10 – must start from scratch on this. Old one won’t do at all.

Latest -4/10 – 3:30 – (Francis) Brennan said to hold off – not do anything for time being.

This has been given to (Charles) Towne to do – 4/12.

4/23 Tried to get (Norman) Rockwell (to) do this. He said no – sorry.

4/27 Mr. (Leon) Helguera to do this.

5/5 Helguera going to do finish. (Delivery) 2 weeks. (Delivered) 5-21.

– Transcription from Production Sheet 426A, Job # 56, dated April 9 – May 25, 1943.

From December 1942 until April 1943 Sloan is the only illustrator assigned to the project. However, from April 12 to April 27, 1943 several different artists are contacted to take over the job. Charles Towne is in the picture for less than two weeks. Next, OWI tries Norman Rockwell, though he promptly declines citing his busy schedule.[1] Finally, on April 27, 1943, Leon Helguera is confirmed, his services effective May 5, 1943. Given two weeks to complete the work, it is delivered on time.

Exactly a month after receiving Helguera’s finished illustration, OWI sends images of the poster to the FBI, Navy, and Army, its partners in the Security of War Information program, informing them that the Uncle Sam design will also be the “standard insignia of the Security campaign from now on.”

The poster then makes its public debut in August 1943 and appears with the slogan “I’m Counting on You! Don’t Discuss: Troop Movements, Ship Sailings, War Equipment.” As described in the previous post, the illustration was reproduced into the millions and distributed widely across the country over the course of 1943-1944, which made it a familiar symbol on the home front during the war. However, as successful as the poster seemed to be it faced a moment of crises in October 1943 when a member of Congress mounted an attack against OWI and chose the Uncle Sam poster as the target of his ire.

I’m Counting on You! OWI Poster #78. NAID 513825.

Next: Propaganda, Politics, and the Personification of FDR: The Uncle Sam Poster Controversy

Additional information:

Although Robert Sloan’s Uncle Sam was rejected, this wasn’t his first job for OWI. A previous poster by him, “Doing all you can, brother?” Buy War Bonds (NAID 514119), was created earlier in 1942.

For more information about Robert Sloan see:  http://robertsmullyansloan.com

The series Production Sheets, Production Reports, and Budget Reports Concerning Graphic Materials, (see below) which this blog post relies on, is now more accessible thanks to the recent efforts of a summer intern who created an index for the production sheets. Located at the beginning of the series, the index accounts for 775 items and includes the title of the project, the name of the artist(s) who worked on it, and the government agency for whom the work was done. 

Sources:

The production sheets and the correspondence between Koehler, Helguera, and Rockwell are located in the series Production Sheets, Production Reports, and Budget Reports Concerning Graphic Materials, 1942 – 1943. Graphics Division. Bureau of Graphics and Printing. Domestic Operations Branch. Office of War Information, RG 208, (NAID 875693).

Memorandum from Francis E. Brennan to Mr. Ken Beirn, Dec. 2, 1942 is from folder “Graphics” in the series: Records of the Chief, 8/1/1942 – 1/31/1943, Bureau of Campaigns, Domestic Operations Branch, Office of War Information, RG 208, (NAID 653193).

Correspondence between Sutherland and Beirn, Feb. 4-5, 1943 is from the folder “Posters Gen”; correspondence between Lanham and Dupuy, Hoover, and Nichols, in June 1943 is from the folder “Posters – Gen. Correspondence.” Both are located in the series Records Concerning War Information Programs, 9/1/1942 – 7/31/1944. Office of the Program Manager for the Security of War Information Campaigns. Office of the Deputy Director for Economic Stabilization, War Finance, and Taxation. Domestic Operations Branch. Office of War Information. RG 208 (NAID 720160)

[1] Rockwell had recently completed his series of paintings, the Four Freedoms, which appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in February and March, 1943, and went on exhibit at the Hecht’s Company in Washington, DC, opening day April 27, 1943, as part of a War Bond drive exhibit.

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