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Produce for Victory: Posters on the American Home Front, 1941-1945

Using the popular appeal of Madison Avenue advertising and the Hollywood look, World War II posters urged every American on the home front to be a production soldier in the effort to win World War II. They encouraged citizens to boost production in the factories and to save and sacrifice in the home. The populace received a daily dose of propaganda through the bold graphics of the posters that hung on factory walls, offices, and grocery store windows throughout the country.

Produce for Victory included twenty-six reproductions of war posters from the collections of the National Museum of American History, as well as nine period artifacts. This exhibition, a reduced-size version of a popular exhibition that featured the original posters, consisted of five freestanding units. The exhibition contained the best of the Smithsonian's wartime images, collected by its curator of graphic arts during World War II, and traced the evolution of the poster as an art form that was key to mobilizing and maintaining stateside support for the war effort.

Tennessee was home to a great variety of important events and industries during World War II. There were many prisoner of war camps located here, and several military bases sprung up in small, rural towns, radically affecting these communities as they grew in support of the bases. Women and African Americans in Tennessee played a critical role in the home front effort during the war — and afterwards, when vying to keep the opportunities that had arisen for them challenged society's return to the status quo. Learn more about the role of women at home during World War II (.pdf)

Programs to explore these issues and many other important and fascinating local stories were discussed through companion programming developed by host communities on the Produce for Victory tour. The hosts and examples of their programming include:

  •  The Tullahoma Fine Arts Center examined the rise of Camp Forrest and the lasting changes it brought to the area.
  • The Englewood Textile Museum published the results of the oral history project they conducted about the experiences of women, in service and on the home front, during this tumultuous era.
  • The Bedford County Arts Council's oral history focused on wartime textile industry in Shelbyville, and produced a tabloid and a theater performance based on this local history.
  • The Polk County Historical and Genealogical Society in Benton produced a tabloid comprised of WWII era articles from their local paper.
  •  In Springfield, the Robertson County Historical Museum held a USO street dance, a Rosie the Riveter look-a-like contest, and honored with high school diplomas those veterans who missed their graduations due to service.
  • Unicoi County Heritage Museum teamed with volunteers to create a victory vegetable garden, complete with a display of seed packets sold by school children for a nickel each during wartime.
  •  The Houston County Historical Society, in Erin, Tennessee, produced a companion exhibit featuring period artifacts and information about the women and families of Danville, the community that was flooded by Kentucky Dam while most men were overseas.
  •  The American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge developed an exhibit highlighting the home front across the state, providing a broad picture of the role of Tennesseans in the war effort, and the vast impact this historical event had on Tennessee.

The project was organized by Humanities Tennessee in association with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and the National Building Museum, with assistance from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. All photos in the Produce for Victory publication are from the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.