They Kept the Sea Lanes Open

Title They Kept the Sea Lanes Open
Creator L.A. Shafer
Date 1919
Format 30 x 40 in
Description L.A. Shafer illustrated multiple WWI propaganda posters, many of which share maritime themes, and in this poster, Shafer touts the achievements of the U.S. Navy to persuade audiences to purchase Victory Liberty Loans, which were sold to pay off war debts after the signing of the Armistice. The poster depicts a thrilling encounter between a surfaced German U-Boat moving toward a brightly colored commercial passenger liner. On the bridge of the submarine, several Germans can be seen rising from the depths of the darkly colored vessel with hands raised, a non-verbal signal of surrender. In the top left corner of the poster, an imposing warship with an American flag monitors the situation. In case the relationship between the three vessels is unclear, Shafer includes the text “THEY KEPT THE SEA LANES OPEN,” communicating to the viewer that the Navy successfully protected civilians and commercial interests during the war, a message that would have been especially resonate given the sinking of the Lusitania by Germany in 1915. Shafer’s wonderful use of watercolor is visually arresting, and the message, while torn, is unmistakable: “INVEST IN THE VICTORY LIBERTY LOAN.”
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