Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator
This WWI poster, "U.S. Navy- Help your country! Enlist in the Navy" was created for the Navy Recruiting Station in New York City and is part of the museum’s collection. The artist, Henry Reuterdahl, was a Swedish-American painter who knew the traditions of the Navy. He served as a Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserves, and had been handpicked by President Roosevelt to accompany the Great White Fleet to artistically document the journey. As an editor for Jane’s Fighting Ships, Reuterdahl created several posters for recruiting stations across the United States. One of these posters, the famous “The Navy Put ‘em Across,” is on display in the museum’s World War I gallery.
In this poster, more specifically a lithograph, Reuterdahl created an inspiring view of the U.S. Navy by positioning gigantic ships cutting through the chaotic waves at the top of the poster. The artist used strong vibrant colors, which immediately catch one’s eye and draw the viewer in. The swirling blue and white ocean dwarfs the extra details of the seagull in the left hand corner, but it leads the viewer to the powerful battleships steaming ahead.
The imagery purposely echoes the mighty voyage of the Great White Fleet in 1907-1909. The Great White Fleet was a battle group consisting of sixteen battleships, painted white, which traveled the globe to demonstrate American naval power.The artist positions the WWI battleships with the exact angle of the vessels from some photographs of the Great White Fleet. Both works of art form a battle line, steaming full ahead, almost as though the ships will sail right out of the picture. Both photograph and poster feature the iconic designs of the battleships from this era. The Great White Fleet, painted white as a sign of peace, with steam stacks and masts, were reflected in the cage-masts and turrets of the gray WWI battleships. The energy of the steel ships, as they approach with waves crashing and steam billowing, portrays a sense of strength and mightiness. This energy would have appealed to a young man’s sense of adventure and desire to be a part of something greater than himself, such as the U.S. Navy.
Reuterdahl’s time in the Navy, especially the Great White Fleet, heavily influenced his recruiting posters during World War I. His ability to create a sense of power and adventure was influential in U.S. Navy recruiting efforts in WWI.