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March 28, 2020

18 Gorgeous Vintage Public Health Posters From the 1930s and 1940s

From 1936–1943 the Federal Art Project under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) commissioned over 200,000 works from American artists and artisans in order to support struggling creatives.


Posters were designed to publicize exhibits, community activities, theatrical productions, and health and educational programs in seventeen states and the District of Columbia. The Federal Art Project was of one of the first U.S. Government programs to support the arts.

It is estimated that the WPA poster division printed about 2 million posters, most of which were subsequently lost or destroyed. Of the remaining originals, the Library of Congress keeps the largest collection of these posters, which include a variety of PSAs covering topics ranging from warnings about dog bites to encouraging vaccinations.

Poster showing a woman and two children in the rain: A lifelong job––the constant protection of their health––The Cook County Public Health Unit / E.S. Reid. Created between 1936 and 1941.

Poster for Cleveland Division of Health promoting swimming as healthy exercise, showing a man and a woman in a swimming pool. Created in 1940.

Poster promoting better health care through the prevention of tuberculosis by better eating and sleeping habits, and more exposure to sunshine. Created between 1936 and 1941.

Poster promoting good oral hygiene, showing stylized face, toothbrush and toothpaste. Created between 1936 and 1938.

Poster for the Cleveland Division of Health encouraging dog bite victims to report dog bites to the proper authorities, showing dog and injured hand. Created in 1941.

Poster showing a man rolling dice: Don't gamble with syphilis--Consult health authorities. Created between 1936 and 1940.

Poster for Cleveland Division of Health promoting milk, showing a large bottle of milk next to couples smiling, playing golf, tennis and two babies. Created in 1940.

Poster promoting proper health care for children, showing a girl with a fawn. Created between 1936 and 1938.

Poster promoting better health care through early treatment of cancer, showing a hand holding a sword. Created between 1936 and 1938.

Poster for Illinois WPA Safety Division promoting immediate treatment of on-the-job injuries. Created between 1936 and 1941.

Poster for Chicago Department of Health showing large red question mark. Created between 1936 and 1941.

Poster showing whiskey bottle, gas pump, and a skull. Created between 1936 and 1937.

Poster promoting proper dietary habits, showing stylized fruit. Created between 1936 and 1938.

Poster showing an outhouse in a picturesque, small town setting: Your home is not complete without a sanitary unit, recommended by the State Department of Public Health. Created between 1936 and 1941.

Poster for the Chicago Department of Health, showing a flying disc “Toxoid” preventing a lightning bolt from striking a child. Created between 1936 and 1941.

Poster promoting diagnosis and treatment for cancer. Created between 1936 and 1939.

City of Chicago Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium poster promoting testing for tuberculosis and showing two athletes hurdling barriers “malnutrition” and “heart disease” and a third athlete stumbling over the barrier “tuberculosis” on their way to the finish line “good health”. Created between 1936 and 1939.

Poster promoting cleanliness and proper child care, showing swan with cygnet. Created between 1936 and 1939.

(Images: Library of Congress, via TIME)




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