The United States had just lifted itself out of The Great Depression and was looking forward to enjoying a period of prosperity for the first time in a long, long while. Everything was looking good here on the home front when the drums of war started beating. The coffers of the Treasury Department were almost depleted. Everybody knows that war is an expensive proposition so who was going to pay for it? It looked like nobody would until along came….

The Greatest Advertising Campaign of All Time?

Yes, that’s right folks. On May 1st of 1941, our beloved President, Franklin D. Roosevelt purchased the first Series E. U.S. Saving Bond directly from the Secretary of the Treasury. By the time all was said on done and the last proceeds from the war campaigns were deposited into the Treasury, over 187 billion dollars in securities had been had been raised in order to finance the war. By the time the fighting was over, an amazing 85 million Americans had made their stake in what were then known as “War Bonds”. The amount of selling that took place has never been matched by neither the United States or any other country or corporation since.( Take that Nike!)

How did they do it?

Well, for starters something called the “War Finance Committee” was created in order to supervise the selling of the bonds. They had to determine whether the government would actually purchase advertising space or if they would appeal to newspaper and magazines to “donate” the space. After initial cost estimates came in that the amount would exceed over 4 millions dollars a year to actually run a full fledged multi media ad campaign, they decided to take the second approach and solicit space donations for the bond advertisements. (I guess they figured the 4 million per year could be put to, er, better use.)

A wise decision if there ever was one. Over a quarter of a billion dollars in free advertising was donated by various newspapers, magazines and corporate sponsorship. Estimates have it that after only one month, over 90% of Americans that were polled were aware that they could buy bonds through their companies Payroll Savings Plan.

Tired of all those damn commercials?

Basically, the public was swamped with information in two ways. First you had advertising that was created and sponsored by various government agencies. Next, in order to fulfill their “patriotic duties”, you had private corporations, organizations and individuals out stumping for sales of the bonds. Top that off with advertisements in monthly/weekly magazines, daily newspapers, radio blitzes and posters just about everywhere, it couldn’t help but be successful

The advertisements themselves were an interesting combination about how the concept of patriotism and financial security could go hand in hand with the moral indignation over the war itself and how one was supposed to “do their part”.

The Nitty Gritty

All in all there was a series of eight campaigns for the “War Loans”. Here’s the breakdown.

The first War Loan came along on November 30, 1942 and ended on December 23 of the same year. The goal was to raise 9 billion dollars on behalf of the war effort. It raised almost 13 billion. Out of this, only 1.6 billion was sold to individuals, the rest went to corporations and commercial banks.

The second War Loan began on April 12, 1943 and it was looking to raise 13 billion. When they stopped counting the dollars on May 1st, 1943, they had raised over 18.5 billion dollars. This time around, individuals had more than doubled their contributions.

The third War Loan was pretty ambitious. It was looking to raise 15 billion dollars. When you put that in perspective it meant that the amount of bonds sold in a single month would have to be doubled. In comparison, it meant that over 40 million American citizens (out of about 130 million) would have to invest in a $100 Series E Saving Bond. Well, Roosevelt took to the airways, and Kate Smith belted out some tunes and by golly, when the chips were cashed in, over 19 billion dollars were raised.

The fourth War Loan began its career on January 18, 1944. With advertising mainly targeted towards women and farmers, the effort was looking to raise another 14 billion. If you can believe this, over 6 million American citizens took to the streets and donated their time as volunteer salespeople. It worked. When the campaign ended about a month later, 16.7 billion dollars were now in the bank.

Since the pace of the war had increased dramatically, the goal of the fifth War Loan was the highest yet. Started on June 12, 1944 and looking to raise 16 billion dollars by the time the campaign ended on July 8, 1944, the final numbers tallied 20.6 billion.

With the war in Europe almost a foregone conclusion, the sixth War Loan was geared towards depicting the Japanese as the countries number one enemy. It too must have worked because when the program ended, another 21.6 billion dollars was available.

Talk about a media blitz! The seventh War Loan had far more promotional events and sponsorship than any of its predecessors. The Office of War estimated that about 50% of all available radio time would be committed to the drive. Beginning an May, 14, 1945 and scheduled to end six weeks later, the drive was looking to raise another 14 billion. There were some worries that the goal was too ambitious since VE Day had already come and gone and the Germans had surrendered but have no fear. Americans turned out in record numbers and raised another 26 billion dollars on behalf of the war.

The eighth (and last!) War Loan (sometimes called the Victory War Loan) started on October 29, 1945 and ran through December 8, 1945. This was the only drive to be conducted without the war actually going on and was only looking to raise 11 billion dollars. Amazingly, people responded by investing over 21 billion dollars in the drive. This represented an astounding 192% of the goal and was the highest percentage of any of the war loans.

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