Catalog Number: 1989.032.01
The question on this poster is relatively simple: “Will YOU supply EYES for the NAVY?”
At first glance this may appear to be a recruiting poster. Instead, it is encouraging people to turn in their binoculars and spy glasses for use in the Navy.
One dollar per accepted item — which in 1918 would have the buying power that $17 has today — and a promise to return the borrowed items at the end of the war. Which war you might ask? The Great War.
While World War I had started in 1914, the U.S. did not enter the war until 1917. Until then, the national policy had been one of relative isolationism.
However, ties to Britain, anti-German propaganda and the sinking of ships by German U-boats propelled the country to enter the conflict. The U.S. declared war on April 6, 1917.
And the country’s anti-German sentiment wasn’t just directed at a foreign power. Wisconsin came under a critical eye from the rest of the country due to its large German-American population, active Socialist party and the anti-war sentiments of U.S. Sen. and former Gov. Robert La Follette. These factors caused Wisconsin to earn the nickname of the “traitor state.”
These suspicions didn’t stop its citizens from pitching in and doing their part for the war effort, as the poster suggests they should do. A local newspaper in June 1918 reported that manufacturers in La Crosse, Monroe and the surrounding counties organized to “increase and expedite production for war purposes, in accordance with the plan laid down for the war industries board.”
Wisconsin was also the first state to implement meatless and wheatless days to help make supplies stretch during food rationing.
Wisconsin contributions to the Great War didn’t end at the homefront. The 32nd National Guard Division, known as the Red Arrow Division, was composed entirely of Wisconsin and Michigan troops. It had the distinction of providing the first U.S. troops to set foot on enemy soil in World War I. The division’s shoulder patch, a line shot through with a red arrow, symbolizes the fact that the 32nd Division penetrated every German line of defense that it faced.
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on September 8, 2018.