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By James R.Mo

Cedric Larson

How the Creel Committee on Public

Information Mobilized American

Opinion Toward Winning the WorldWar

From the collection of the


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San Francisco, California




London: Humphrey Milford

Oxford University Press






One of Howard Chandler Christy's Memorable Posters




The Story of

Tne Committee on Public Information









CopyrigLt, 1939 By Princeton University Press

Composed Ly Princeton University Press

md printed in tke United States of America



July 6,

1937, trucks rolled up to The National


Archives in Washington, bringing to their last resting

place 180 cubic feet of records which for the previous

sixteen years had been all but lost in the Munitions Building

basement at 2oth Street and Constitution Avenue.


precious cargo represented virtually all that is left of the files of the Committee on Public Information, the so-called Creel

Committee of the World War. Here in these papers is the

story of America's first "propaganda ministry/' and its dy-

namic leader, George Creel. This book goes to press at a moment when no one can say

that America will surely avoid facing once more the issues and

problems of 1917-1919. The lessons of the Creel Committee

are calling aloud for recognition in this tense year of 1939. Therefore, this book attempts whenever possible to consider

not only the actual mechanics and the work of the CPI but also

the larger and more gravely urgent questions which are with

us today or may be tomorrow. France and England have become, at least for the time

being, "totalitarian democracies/' and Americans ask them-

selves what may happen to this country if it is sucked into the

maelstrom. As this book attempts to demonstrate, the advance

of censorship power can be silent and almost unnoticed as

wave follows wave of patriotic hysteria. If the record of the last war is to be taken, American resistance to repressive measures

may not be great. The question arises whether, in the event

of a new war, America would feel like indulging in the luxury

of some "Creel Committee" to stand as buffer between

military dictatorship and civil life.

As to the foreign work of the CPI about which little has

been written and not all of that in entire candor

the world


problem was in many respects so similar to that of today that

Americans can turn back with the highest profit to these newly

available records of relations between the United States and

the Allies in opposition to German militarism. From June 30, 1919, until the files were placed in the cus- tody of the Archives, they shrank to less than a quarter of their

former bulk partly because of the ministrations of the ''Use-

less Papers Committee" and partly for unexplained reasons.

But the papers that remain

hundreds of thousands of

them provide an historical source of the first importance to the American people. Letters, memoranda, cablegrams,

printed documents, Military and Naval Intelligence reports,

slides, movie films, posters


all these are waiting to tell their

The Committee was so widespread in its ramifications that

the collection touches nearly all phases of American and world affairs for the years 1917 to 1919. The authors have con-

sciously restricted themselves to intensive study of these files,

though fully realizing that words alone did not win the war.

The "strategic equation" of military language recognizes four

factors (combat, economic, political, and psychologic) ,


this book is concerned only with the last and obviously with

only some of its aspects. A similar study might be oriented

about the forensic activities of Woodrow Wilson, the work

of the Military Intelligence Branch, or any of a number of

other points of interest. But the Committee on Public In-

formation touched all of these, and a complete understanding

of its work would be essential to appreciation of other work on

"the psychologic front."

At the end of his Propaganda. Technique in the World War,

Harold D. Lasswell says: "To illuminate the mechanisms of

propaganda is to reveal the secret springs of social action."

This book can hope to make no such thoroughgoing contribu- tion to human knowledge, but it is in that spirit that it has

been written.

As Dr. Lasswell also says: "In the Great Society it is no

longer possible to fuse the waywardness of individuals in the


furnace of the war dance; a new and subtler instrument must

weld thousands and even millions of human beings into one

amalgamated mass of hate and will and hope. A new flame must

burn out the canker of dissent and temper the steel of belli-

cose enthusiasm. The name of this new hammer and anvil of

social solidarity is propaganda. Talk must take the place of

drill; print must supplant the dance. War dances live in litera-

ture and at the fringes of the modern earth; war propaganda

breathes and fumes in the capitals and provinces of the world." And in describing the specific objectives of war propa-

ganda, Dr. Lasswell gives this list:

  • 1. To mobilize hatred against the enemy.

  • 2. To preserve the friendship of allies.

  • 3. To preserve the friendship and, if possible, to procure

the cooperation of neutrals.

  • 4. To demoralize the enemy.

The reader will see how perfectly the work of the Com-

mittee on Public Information follows this formula, thus mak-

ing the record of its activity not only significant as a chapter in American history but an especially apt illustration of how

all war propaganda works. As to previous knowledge of the Committee, it appears that,

except for partial use in two doctoral dissertations, no scholar

had been through the files until Dr. Frank Hardee Allen of

the National Archives had completed his conscientious and

useful classification of the material. Heretofore, the principal

sources have been the Complete Report of the Chairman of

the Committee on Public Information and the popular How We Advertised America both written by George Creel with

his customary verve and loyal pride in the organization, but

far from complete because of hasty and chaotic liquidation of

the Washington office while Mr. Creel was at the Peace


Accordingly, much material which George Creel himself

could not get at in 1919 has been available to the authors,

and the majority of the documents in this book have never


been published before. A number of them will necessitate reinterpretation of certain statements in George Creel's books

and in the recollections set down in print by his associates.

Nevertheless, it is obvious that only a portion of the total

evidence is presented here, and that nothing less than a small

library could do justice to the fascinating story of the Creel

Committee. What the authors have attempted to do is to

suggest the Committee's implications for democratic govern- ment and its lessons for future national emergencies, and,

through selected examples, to describe its impact on the Amer-

ican people and world affairs.

A few of the documents have been used in other form for

the authors' articles in the Public Opinion Quarterly, the

Quarterly Journal of Speech, and the Journalism Quarterly. In

each case we are grateful to the editors for permission to


The authors realize how futile this undertaking would have been without the sincere interest and generous cooperation of

a large group of individuals including former members of the

CPI, historians, librarians, and archivists. First and foremost,

the authors wish to thank the staff of the National Archives

for patient, helpful and courteous service in making accessible

the files of the Committee on Public Information and the

archives of contemporary federal agencies. They also wish to express their profound gratitude for the many and unsurpassed research facilities afforded them by the

Library of Congress, including study cubicles, periodicals,

newspapers, and books of the various collections.

To the following institutions a debt is acknowledged in the

writing of this book, either directly or indirectly: the Hoover

War Library, Stanford University; Carnegie Endowment for

International Peace and its library, Washington, D.C.; the

Public Library, Washington, D.C.; Libraries of the Army

War College and of the Army Industrial College; Division of

Cultural Relations, Department of State; Signal Corps,

U.S.A.; Navy Department Recruiting Service; and Princeton University Library.

Participants in the activities described in the following pages

who have been of assistance, through personal interviews in

a majority of cases, are: George Creel, Josephus Daniels, Carl

Byoir, E. S. Rochester, Captain Henry T. Hunt, Wallace

Irwin, Eugene White, Lee B. Wood, Lawrence Rubel, and

Judge Charles E. Douglas.

The writers wish to thank especially Professor Harold D.

Lasswell for his active interest in this study, and the Princeton

University Press for its constant understanding and help. For

unfailing editorial cooperation and advice the authors are deeply indebted to Mr. and Mrs. Datus C. Smith, Jr. To

Miss Bess Glenn of The National Archives the authors are

indebted for her assistance in indexing this volume.

Many specific personal acknowledgments appear elsewhere

in the book.

The National Archives,

Washington, D.C. September 15, 1939.

J. R. M. AND C. L.





Part I. The Creel Committee and Its Background

  • 1. The American Mind in Wartime

  • 2. The Coming of Censorship

  • 3. George Creel's Improvisation




Part II. "Holding Fast the Inner Lines"

  • 4. Fighting with Printer's Ink: Words and Pictures

  • 5. Broadcasting Before Radio:

Four-Minute Men

  • 6. A Barrage of Film: Mobilizing the Movies

  • 7. Clio Joins the Colors: Scholars and the Schools

  • 8. The People's War: Labor and Capital

  • 9. Deleting the Hyphen: the Foreign-Born







Part III. Advertising Our Mission Abroad

  • 10. "The Fight for the Mind of Mankind"

11 . Crossing the Enemy Lines

  • 12. In the Land of the Neutrals

  • 13. Educating Our Comrades in Arms

  • 14. The CPI and Russian Chaos

  • 15. Below the Rio Grande

Part IV. The Future

  • 16. Blueprint for Tomorrow's CPI














Fight or Buy Bonds

Don't Talk

The Censorship Board

George Creel Shortly Before the War

Three Creel Title Pages

Spies and Lies

Halt the Hun Army Censorship Order on Tanks

Battle News Manufactured in New York

Stopped, Delayed, or Otherwise Dealt With

Two Phases of the "Official Bulletin"

The German Idea

A Famous Gibson Drawing

Bulletin for Cartoonists

Slide Announcing Four-Minute Speakers Four-Minute Men Bulletin

The Movie Industry Joins Up The Fate of "The Caillaux Case"

The Most Famous of the "Hate" Pictures

Four CPI Pamphlets

Bachelor of Atrocities

Not Too Academic

National School Service






















1 69



For Mobilizing the Nation's Schools

Beware of German Traps

Why Does Drifting from Job to Job ...

Let Us Remember Russia

Help from the National Association of Manufacturers

The Hand That Threatens








Dr. Uncle Sam

The Cartoon That Aroused Creel's Anger

Hyphenated Americans Are Asked to Buy

Germans Learn How the War Cam'e to America

An American "Paper Bullet"

To Encourage German Defeatism

Invitation to German Deserters

Special Inducements Were Sometimes Needed

Agent's Report from Santander

Releasing Propaganda-Laden Balloons

"Shoulder Arms" and "America's Answer"

The German-Bolshevik Conspiracy

One Blueprint for Tomorrow's CPI

















"It is given to every man either to eat his cake or

to keep his cake, but it is given to no man to do both. A country can choose to be a great military

power, and to remain in peace times constantly

upon a military footing, subtracting from educa-

tion and religion and progress all along the line

the cost of it; or it can choose to be a great democ-

racy of hope and peace and progress, and knowing

well beforehand that if it chooses to be this lat-

ter, it must muddle and suffer infinitely in men

and money when war is forced upon it. Each

nation can choose one of these two things. No-

body can choose both." Senator John Sharp

Williams in a letter to George Creel, April 4,


Chapter i


w 'E had gone to war. We had decided to send our boys

over to France to save democracy. But even as in-

dignation against Germany had surged higher and

higher in those last tense days before 3: 12 a.m., April 6, 1917,

no one could say just what the American people would do after

their eloquent leader had urged them into war.

The great majority of Americans, it seemed, wanted to fight, but people wondered anxiously how large and how determined

the minority might be. Minorities are dangerous when the fate

of civilization is hanging in the balance.


felt quite easy

with Senator LaFollette and his "little group of wilful men"

still in Congress? How could we count on the millions of Ger-

mans, Austrians, Hungarians, Poles, Russians and other "aliens

in our midst"? Wasn't there something very disquieting in the

widely quoted opinion of Dr. Ales Hrdlicka that the Melting Pot had failed to melt? How many people still believed there

was such a thing as being too proud to fight? How many re-

membered the President's statement that there was no essential

difference in the expressed war aims of the belligerents? What

of enemy spies, of whom there were said to be 100,000 or more

at large, and their allies, the pacifists, Socialists, and labor agita-

tors? What about the success of Wilson's campaign slogan,

"He kept us out of war"? What about warnings against en-

tanglement in Europe's quarrels which still echoed in countless


And what, above all, about the unknown thousands of

Americans who might not feel very strongly one way or the

other but thought Europe was a long way off and might find it

too much bother to make the sacrifices which a modern war

demands of the entire population?


We had pledged "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred

honor/' but could we fulfill that pledge? When a peaceful

nation, jealous of individual liberty and proud of its freedom

from militarism, attempted to mobilize its men, money, re- sources, and emotions for one mighty effort, even a rather

small minority could bring disaster. "Widespread cooperation"

was not good enough when the nation's life was at stake. Noth-

ing less than complete solidarity would do.

America was not unified when war was declared. The neces-

sary reversal of opinion was too great to be achieved overnight. The agonizing question in official Washington, the question

on which hung the fate of the country's entire wartime effort,

was whether the inner lines at home would hold as effectively

as the lines in France. The Committee on Public Information was assigned the stag- gering task of "holding fast the inner lines." The story of how it

fulfilled that mission is a dramatic record of vigor, effectiveness,

and creative imagination. The Committee was America's "prop- aganda ministry" during the World War, charged with encour- aging and then consolidating the revolution of opinion which

changed the United States from anti-militaristic democracy to

an organized war machine. This work touched the private life

of virtually every man, woman, and child; it reflected the

thoughts of the American people under the leadership of Woodrow Wilson; and it popularized what was for us a new

idea of the individual's relation to the state.

President Wilson created the Committee on Public Infor- mation by executive order dated April 1 3, 1917, and appointed

George Creel as civilian chairman, with the Secretaries of State,

War, and Navy as the other members. Mr. Creel assembled as

brilliant and talented a group of journalists, scholars, press

agents, editors, artists, and other manipulators of the symbols

of public opinion as America had ever seen united for a single

purpose. It was a gargantuan advertising agency the like of

which the country had never known, and the breathtaking scope of its activities was not to be equalled until the rise of

totalitarian dictatorships after the war. George Creel, Carl


Byoir, Edgar Sisson, Harvey O'Higgins, Guy Stanton Ford,

and their famous associates were literally public relations coun-

sellors to the United States government, carrying first to the

citizens of this country and then to those in distant lands the

ideas which gave motive power to the stupendous undertaking

of 1917-1918.

Whether or not one accepts the interpretation of Charles

Beard, the Nye Committee, Walter Millis, or someone else, it

is clear that ideas, for whatever reason they were held, took us

into the war and kept alive the fiercely burning fires of indus-

trial and military and naval activity. Without the driving force of those ideas there would have been no A.E.F. in France, no

destroyer squadron at Oueenstown, no sub-chasers in the

Mediterranean, no "Bridge of Ships" spanning the Atlantic, no

Liberty Bonds, no Draft Law, no food rationing, no coal short- age, no seizure of railroads and ammunition plants, no abridg-

ment of free speech and free press.

And it was the Committee on Public Information that both mobilized and expressed the thoughts and emotions supporting

these extraordinary dislocations of peaceful life. The story of

its career holds a strategic place in the history of the war, and it

presses for current attention as America anxiously considers

what it will do in the current European War. Through every known channel of communication the Com-

mittee carried straight to the people its message of Wilson's idealism, a war to end war, and America to the rescue of civiliza-

tion. "Fireside chats" via radio did not in that day give national leaders the present easy avenue of approach to the family circle,

but the Committee was nevertheless able to address itself di-

rectly to the minds and hearts of Americans, however isolated

they might appear to be from the main stream of martial


If they included misinformation in their complex of ideas about the war, at least it was misinformation shared with them

by editors and college professors, the country's greatest intellec-

tual and spiritual leaders, and by public figures in the shadow

of theWhite House. History had not yet separated true and false,


and many things were believed in 1918 that scholars would deny today. But there was little expressed difference of opinion.

It was illegal to express dissent of certain kinds, but for most people no law was necessary. The Committee on Public Infor-

mation had done its work so well that there was a burning

eagerness to believe, to conform, to feel the exaltation of join-

ing in a great and selfless enterprise.

When facts were known or convictions held by any con-

siderable number of the people they were common to all

to simple folk on the edge of the prairie, to department store

clerks and subway guards in the metropolis, to lumbermen

deep in the forests of the Northwest, and to maintenance men

set down in squalid huts along a desert right-of-way. Americans

stood close together in the comradeship of battle in 1917 and

1918, and it was largely the doing of the Committee on Public Information.

Consider the case of one mid-western family. They lived on

a quarter-section of farmland a dozen miles from the railroad, telegraph, and postoffice. The nearest daily newspaper was

published at the far end of the next county, seventy-five miles away. No through road passed near their farm, they had seen

pavement only a few times in their