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Teaching the First World War
Teaching the First World War

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4.1 American propaganda – Example 1

This first example was published in 1916 before the USA entered the war.

Students’ skills development: Primary source analysis

Print propaganda: Life magazine (1916)

You have the option to consider each question yourself before revealing our specimen answers or use our worked example for students’ skills development. (A larger version of this map can be viewed and downloaded from the website of Cornell University Library [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .)

Described image
Figure 5 Front cover of Life magazine, 10 February 1916




This cartoon was drawn for the front cover of Life magazine, a popular American satirical magazine based in New York City. The artist is unknown.



The cartoon was published in February 1916. This was just over a year before the USA intervened in the First World War, but amid growing clamours for military preparedness and increasing concerns regarding the threat posed by Germany.



The cartoon depicts an imaginary map of North America, in which the USA appears to have succumbed to foreign invasion. The bulk of the USA has been invaded by Germany and has been named New Prussia, after Germany’s largest state. Major cities within the USA have been given Germanic names – New York, for example, has been renamed ‘New Potsdam’ after the Prussian city. Other geographical features have also been renamed: the Atlantic Ocean is now the ‘Von Tirpitz’ Ocean, named after the German admiral. Florida has been renamed Turconia – a reference to Turkey, Germany’s allies in the war. Students might also notice that the west coast has been renamed Japonica – this reflected American concerns regarding Japanese aggression, though Japan by this stage in the war had in fact intervened on behalf of the Allies.



The exact message behind this image is open to interpretation, and students might approach it in a number of ways. On the one hand, by using humour, the cartoon appears to be making light of the impact of a German invasion. However, Life was one of a number of American publications that regularly demonised Germany and pushed for military preparedness. When this is explained to students, they are likely to realise that the map is perhaps best understood as a warning against the potential threat of German invasion and a call for greater military preparedness.



To capture the reader’s attention, the cartoonist has employed a colourful, eye-catching design. The juxtaposition of German names alongside the familiar outline of the USA is humorous, but it also reinforces a serious message regarding the potential consequences of a German invasion.

Uses for historians


This cartoon provides evidence of the process that led the USA from neutrality to intervention in the First World War. It is an example of how public opinion began to turn against Germany and how gradually many influential American publications began to favour military preparedness. This would eventually develop into widespread support for intervention among the nation’s elites. However, like many examples of humour in history, there is ambiguity, and we cannot be certain of how readers responded to this cartoon.

The next section has the second example of American propaganda.