"I Want YOU!" - James Montgomery Flagg

April 16, 2019

"I Want YOU!" -  James Montgomery Flagg

James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) was one of the most prominent poster artists during the first half of the 20th century. His unique and influential art captured the hearts of Americans and encouraged people to rally behind a similar cause. His images are timeless. We delve into his artwork and story here on this week’s blog.

Flagg was a prodigious illustrator. 130 years ago, Flagg sold his first illustration at the age of only twelve years old. By fourteen, he had become a regular illustrator for Life magazine. Two years after that, he joined the staff of its rival publication Judge. His talent was undeniable, even from such a young age.

Throughout his career, Flagg produced a variety of influential material. Still to this day, however, he is most famous for creating the first truly influential image of the fictitious Uncle Sam. His “I want YOU" lithographed image of Uncle Sam was published in 1917, during World War I. Uncle Sam (initials U.S.) is a common national personification of the American government or the United States in general. According to legend, Uncle Sam came into use during the War of 1812 as the personification of Samuel Wilson; an American meat packer from Troy, New York. Since the early 19th century, Uncle Sam has been a popular symbol of the U.S. government in American culture and around the world.

 "I Want You for the U.S. Army" Vintage WWI Poster
James Montgomery Flagg, 1917 

 

Flagg’s prominent pieces from WWI era feature Uncle Sam, as he was the first artist to convincingly personify Uncle Sam in art. He employed the image quite frequently, adjusting the poses and stances of the character slightly each time. It is even storied that Flagg used his own image as the model for Uncle Sam, imagining himself as a much older man and with facial hair. The similarities are quite recognizable.

Flagg created the now famous "I Want YOU!" image for a July 1916 issue of Leslie’s Weekly. The poster was said to have been adapted from an earlier British poster with a similar pose and call to action. However, Flagg’s Uncle Sam rendition spoke to Americans when it needed to the most. During WWI, the poster encouraged American able-bodied men to join the war effort. Flagg himself was too old to be drafted into the war effort by WWI. Instead, he did his part as a propaganda poster artist. He produced forty-six posters for the DPP's war effort – many of them featuring Uncle Sam. Flagg the national personification in Uncle Sam as a successful propaganda tool. While images of Uncle Sam had existed since the early 1800s, it was Flagg's adaptation that is commonly recognized today.

Even when America entered into World War II in 1941, the posters were not retired. His famous "I want YOU!" poster was reissued and printed for the WWII, as the message still applied.

James Montgomery Flagg's iconic imagery is plastered across American signs, advertising, and goods still to this day. While his idea for the iconic imagery was simple, his execution set him apart from his predecessors and peers.

 

"Be a U.S. Marine!" Vintage War Poster

James Montgomery Flagg, 1918


Kennedy, Phillip. “I Want YOU”- The Story of James Montgomery Flagg’s Iconic Poster. Illustration Chronicles, 2016-2019.






Also in Blog

Grosset & Dunlap: Book Publishers for the Masses and Film Buffs Alike
Grosset & Dunlap: Book Publishers for the Masses and Film Buffs Alike

February 21, 2024

In 1914, theAmerican book publishing company of Grosset & Dunlap publishers their first photoplay. Today, these vintage photoplay editions are tracked down by film buffs, bibliophiles, and book collectors. Photoplay editions were promotional movie tie-in books of the silent film and early sound era and Grosset & Dunlap monopolized this market in the 1920- 1940s. The most sought after photoplays are those tie-in editions for favorite films such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and King Kong, or lost films such as London After Midnight. Other collectors search for books featuring individual stars, like Lon Chaney or Boris Karlof. Read more about this creative and influential American book publisher on this week's blog. 

View full article →

Collecting Vintage Silver Keepsake Boxes
Collecting Vintage Silver Keepsake Boxes

February 16, 2024

Trinket or jewelry keepsake boxes have taken on many forms since their first conception in ancient times. However their purpose remains the same; to store jewelry and other items precious to the owner. We explore our collection of vintage silver keepsake boxes in this week's blog post. 

View full article →

Bleeding Kansas: The Eve of the Civil War
Bleeding Kansas: The Eve of the Civil War

February 09, 2024

Bleeding Kansas was a time of intense violence over slave and non-slave states in the mid 19th century. Read more about this period- what is known as the precursor to the Civil War.

View full article →