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A 1914 recruitment poster depicting Lord Kitchener, the British Secretary of State for War, above the words "WANTS YOU" was the most famous image used in the British Army recruitment campaign of World War I. A hugely influential image and slogan, it has has inspired imitations in other countries, from the United States to the Soviet Union.
Britain declared war on the German Empire on 4 August 1914. September saw the highest number of volunteers enlisted. The poster was designed by Alfred Leete and had first appeared as a cover illustration for the popular magazine, London Opinion, on 5 September 1914. At the time, the magazine had a circulation of 300,000. In response to requests for reproductions, the magazine offered postcard-sized copies for sale. The Parliamentary Recruiting Committee obtained permission to use the design in poster form. A similar poster used the words "YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU".
On the outbreak of the First World War, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Herbert Asquith appointed Kitchener as Secretary of State for War. Kitchener was the first member of the military to hold the post and was given the task of recruiting a large army to fight Germany.
The poster has often been seen as a driving force helping to bring millions of men into the Army. The Times recorded the scene in London on 3 January 1915; "Posters appealing to recruits are to be seen on every hoarding, in most windows, in omnibuses, tramcars and commercial vans. The great base of Nelson's Column is covered with them. Their number and variety are remarkable. Everywhere Lord Kitchener sternly points a monstrously big finger, exclaiming 'I Want You'". Although it became one of the most famous posters in history, its widespread circulation did not halt the decline in recruiting.
A 2013 book researched by James Taylor counters the popular belief that the Leete design was an influential recruitment tool during the war. He claims the original artwork was acquired by the Imperial War Museum in 1917 and catalogued as a poster in error. Though the image of Kitchener (Britain's most popular soldier) inspired several other poster designs, Taylor says he can find no evidence in photographs of the time that the Leete poster was used. The most popular recruitment poster at the time featured Kitchener (without the pointing finger) and a 30-word extract from one of his speeches.
The image of Lord Kitchener with his hand pointing directly at the viewer has inspired numerous imitations:
British World War I recruiting poster featuring the national personification, John Bull, c1915. "Who's Absent? Is it YOU?"
Reichswehr recruitment poster by Julius Ussy Engelhard, 1919. "You too should join the Reichswehr"
Russian White Army recruitment poster, 1919. "Why aren't you in the army?"
Soviet Union poster, 1927. "You, if you are not yet a member of the cooperative – sign up immediately!"
Brazilian Constitutionalist Revolution recruitment poster, 1932. "You have a duty to fulfill. Ask your conscience!"
United States home front poster. "Are YOU doing all you can?"
United States 1985 Smokey Bear poster. The "Only You" refers to his famous quotation, "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires"