After enjoying success with a WW I poster campaign, the publishing house Mather & company began producing workplace motivational posters reflecting the management theories of the era. Slate magazine features a sampling of the posters and some background: The Colorful Posters That Motivated Jazz-Age Workers To Strive. The article points out that the posters responded to the issues of the day:

“The appeal to the individual, as Gray points out, was of particular interest to employers in the 1920s, who were emerging from a few decades of severe conflicts between labor and management. Catering to managers looking to avert further trouble from within, Mather posters tried to get individuals to think of their own interests rather than those of a union or ethnic group.”

For another gallery of works by Mather & Co and by Parker-Holladay Company, along with a great essay on the values of the era, see Vintage Motivational Posters of the 1920s and 1930s in The Art of Manliness. Authors Brett & Kate McKay say:

“This new, entrepreneurial definition of manhood reached a peak in the decade before the Great Depression. It was a time of idealism and optimism, and people were bullish both about the future of the economy and people’s ability to change their behavior and develop their character. Pithy maxims were popular (for example, Henry Ford was fond of saying, “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice”), and it was felt that constructive encouragement could helps folks from any walk of life improve themselves. During this time, businesses began hanging beautifully illustrated posters with the same slogans that authors like Orison Swett Marden shared with readers a decade earlier. There were even trading cards with similar “go get-em” language that were handed out to employees like baseball cards. Business owners hoped that these posters and cards would help boost productivity and morale and inculcate uneducated and immigrant workers with the virile values needed to thrive in the world of business.”

We’ve included a sampling of posters below. In addition to the two articles above, you can find more vintage collector copies at the International Poster Gallery.





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