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Hurray for Liberty Bonds!
by Bob Brooke


People born in the 1940s grew up with Liberty Bonds. Back then, most called them just savings bonds. They were a favorite gift to kids at birthdays and other major events. Most the people who gave or received these bonds never realized that there were so many things associated with them.

Although people rarely discussed them, there are probably thousands sitting in safe deposit boxes. In fact, these bonds have been around for over 100 years. A Liberty bond was a war bond that the U.S. Government sold to support the allied cause in World War I. Subscribing to the bonds became a symbol of patriotic duty in the United States and introduced the idea of financial securities to many citizens for the first time.

These bonds were a direct and unconditional promise of the U.S. Government to pay upon a certain date a specified sum of money in gold, together with interest at a specific rate, payable at specific dates until the bond matured Only by holding a bond to maturity could people collect the amount they paid plus interest.

“The Great War,” as World War I was known at the time, was an emotional issue. Not everyone was for it. The federal government knew that to wage a massive offensive against the Germans would cost a great deal of money. One third of the cost came from the revival of the personal income tax and an excess profits tax for businesses. The balance was to be raised by the sale of treasury bonds. The government would be asking people to dig deep into their pockets and purchase billions of dollars worth of Liberty Savings Bonds, as they came to be called.

But to get all Americans to buy these bonds took a Herculian advertising and promotional campaign which began in May of 1917. The various Federal Reserve Banks formed committees, on a state-by-state basis, which in turn organized vast numbers of volunteers. Entertainers, politicians, clergymen and persons from all walks of life took part in selling Liberty Bonds.

People couldn’t avoid the bond salesmen. They stood on street corners. The Boy and Girl Scouts went door-.to-door. Volunteers sold bonds in every movie house, theater and concert hall, and during lunch breaks at thousands of factories. They came to be called "four-minute men" because of the length of time they spoke, appealed, pleaded and lectured on the necessity of buying bonds. From the war front came wounded heroes, especially fliers, to tour the nation and to attend mass public rallies. Banks even offered to lend money for bond purchases. Celebrities conducted frequent public rallies, usually in theaters. Movie stars came out solidly to lead many of them.

It all began on April 25, 1917 when Congress approved the Liberty Loan Act which gave authority to the Secretary of the Treasury to issue $2 billion of 31/2-percent convertible bonds for sale by public subscription. Interest rates were raised to 4 1/4 and 4˝ percent in later offerings. In all there were five subscription drives, the first four being numbered consecutively.

The First Liberty Bond Drive commenced May 14, 1917, the day the United States declared war on Germany. Others followed in October of that year, and in April and October 1918. A Victory Liberty Loan subscription bond drive, the funds of which went to aid our exhausted Allies, took place in April 1919 and it, too, was a success. People could purchase bonds in denominations from $50 to $100,000. The five drives of from 1917to 1919 resulted in 22 million bonds sold.

The sale of all these bonds also produced a lot of memorabilia, mostly ephemera. Collectors became interested in the late 1970s.

Posters were the first items to become popular, followed by pinback buttons and postcards. Soon all ephemera, including handbills, magazine covers and advertisements, postal slogan cancels and promotional literature was being collected.

A federal agency headed by Charles Dana Gibson organized the nation's illustrators and painters to churn out patriotic posters, including many for the Liberty Bonds program. James Montgomery Flagg, J.C. Leyendecker and Haskell Coffin were just a few of the hundreds lending their talents and donating their time.

War Savings Stamps booklets, used to hold 25-cent or 50-cent stamps, that when filled were turned in for a bond, delight many collectors as do the various booklets the government furnished to its army of volunteer salesmen and speakers.

The U.S Postal Service issued postcards to dramatize the appeal. Various artists contributed their skills toward creating many fascinating poster art cards. A special effort was a seven-card sepia set that was used to bombard the mailboxes of most every American. Each card began "Liberty Bonds Guarantee.. "with a different listing of objectives, such as "Liberty Bonds Guarantee Unlimited Aeroplanes. ..our Flyers must control the air." This card showed a dozen military biplanes in flight.

The U.S. Army printed another sepia set, taken from photographs in the field, which they gave to doughboys to mail back home. Inscribed "U.S. Army Post Card" on the address side, the pictorials pictured the various implements of war that Liberty Bonds were buying, such as howitzers, tanks and food. Captions emphasized the need to buy bonds: "Liberty Bonds will keep these howitzers thundering at the Huns," etc.

Volunteers handed out small pictorial stickers to bond subscribers who proudly displayed them on their front door or living-room windows. Buying a bond also earned purchasers a special pinback button to wear. Several different varieties issued; some for specific drives, others for general use. Different companies manufactured theirs for the government, including Animated Toy Company of New York, American Art Works of Coshocton, Ohio, Ehrman Manufacturing Company of Boston, and Manee Company of Malden, Massachusetts.

Volunteers also distributed small poster stamps so people could paste or glue them on to stationery, envelopes and postcards. These usually had patriotic motifs, especially flags, shields and the American eagle. There were also 10-cent savings stamps that could be purchased and glued into booklets.

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