Financing WWII with war bonds

The Historical Treasure this week is from the extensive collection of war bond posters that the Vigo County Historical Society has. However, let’s look beyond just the poster, and talk about the war bond itself. Millions of them were printed to pay for the equipment needed for World War II. To accomplish this gigantic task the biggest sales campaign in U.S. history was used to convince Americans it was their patriotic duty to buy bonds and stamps.

The United States Government had some experience selling “Liberty Bonds” during World War I. This time, however, a greater effort was needed since Nazi Germany was conquering country after country in the summer of 1940. So Hans Morgenthau (Secretary of State) and Peter Odegard (a political scientist who specialized in propaganda) drew up the goals for the bond program.

First, a new series of bonds were introduced. The “E” Series was to be targeted to individuals as “Defense Bonds.” They were sold for as little as $18.75 and matured in ten years, at which time the U.S. government paid the holder $25.00. If anyone could not afford to buy an entire bond, stamps could be purchased and collected in a Treasury-approved stamp album until that person had accumulated enough stamps for a bond purchase. Incidentally, the name change to “War Bonds” came after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which resulted in the United States entering World War II.

So how do you sell bonds and stamps without television, cable, Twitter, cell phones, Yahoo, or Google? Surely not just with war bond posters. That’s when the greatest sales campaign in U.S. history began.

Employers set up automatic payroll deductions so their employees could buy bonds. Newspapers, radio broadcasts, and later magazines had ads encouraging people to buy bonds. Song writer Irving Berlin (who wrote “God Bless America”) created a tune called “Any Bonds Today” that became the theme song of the Treasury Department’s National Defense Savings Program. Norman Rockwell’s series of paintings entitled the “Four Freedoms” toured the county, raising $132 million for War Bonds. Even children did their patriotic duty by buying bonds and stamps.

At the end of World War II, January 3, 1946, the last proceeds from the Victory War Bond campaign were deposited into the U.S. Treasury. More than 85 million Americans — half the population — had purchased bonds totaling $185.7 billion. This massive, total selling effort to finance the war has never since been matched.

The Vigo County Historical Museum will open at the new History Center at 929 Wabash Avenue this summer. Volunteer applications are now being accepted. Follow Vigo County Historical Society and Museum on Facebook or join the mailing list online at www.vchsmuseum.org to stay up to date on the progress.