As the U.S. debt increased during World War I, the government looked for ways to get the money it needed to fight the war. Since it didn’t want to rely solely on raising taxes, it began a campaign to borrow from the public through Liberty Bonds. Liberty Bonds were war bonds that once purchased, could be redeemed at a later date for the value of the bond plus the interest it had accrued. The government ran four series of Liberty Bonds, each with different interest rates, but the average rate was around 4 percent and they were tax exempt.
The Liberty Bond campaign appealed to people’s patriotism, and its goal was to get people to see buying war bonds as a way of contributing to the war effort. Judge Gilbert Stephenson highlighted this in his 1918 speech to teachers in North Carolina:
Nine-tenths of us must give our goods rather than our services. If all of the ten million go into active service that leaves ninety million at home. Most of us will go on doing the things we have been doing. Teachers will continue to teach. Our only opportunity to serve is by giving. […]
Every idle dollar is a slacker dollar; every wasted dollar is a traitor dollar; and, on the other hand, every war dollar is a patriot dollar.
Although most of the Liberty Bonds ended up being bought by banks and financial institutions, the Secretary of the Treasury, William McAdoo, engineered a massive campaign to sell the bonds to the public. There were drives and rallies, and millions of buttons, stickers, and posters were produced. The boy scouts sold War Savings Stamps, which could be bought in small denominations until they reached the value of a bond. Famous actors of the day, such as Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, were enlisted to push the war bonds, and Chaplin even made a short propaganda film called The Bond at his own expense. Likewise, well-known artists, like Howard Chandler Christy (of Christy Girl fame), were asked to do the artwork for the posters. Overall, Liberty Bonds raised more than 20 billion dollars for the war effort.
The following are some of the posters used to get people to invest in Liberty Bonds: