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Committee on Public Information (CPI): Purpose, Facts, and Significance

Mary Anthony
War can never be fought without public support and patriotic propaganda. During World War I the government's dominant project was to infuse the American minds into investing in the war, both financially and emotionally. Thus, CPI came into existence.

4-Minute Patriotism!

CPI leader George Creel recruited 75,000 men to deliver patriotic speeches throughout the country who came to be known as the 4-minute men. These men delivered 7,555,190 speeches to a total audience of 314,454,514 during the course of the 19-month war.
When America declared war on Germany on 6th April, 1917, it needed two things urgently: mass mobilization and public support. In other words, the US needed men and women who could sacrifice themselves and their money and time for the country. To achieve this feat, the U.S. government in 1917 felt obligated to promote a series of nationalistic messages through millions of newspapers, magazines, billboards, pamphlets, patriotic speeches, and propaganda booklets.
This successful war publicity was undertaken by the Committee on Public Information, a government organization solely created to carry out this task. Given below are its salient features along with some interesting facts.


Within a week of America entering World War I President Woodrow Wilson created the Committee on Public Information (CPI) on 13th April, 1917. The sole mission of this organization was to gain popular support for America's entry into war, counter anti-war sentiments, banish enemy propaganda, and inspire the public to take action both at home and abroad.
Wilson commissioned investigative journalist George Creel, owner of the Kansas City Independent from Missouri, as the chairman of the organization. Creel established the Films Division, Division of Pictorial Publicity, and a News Division to propagate the war messages.
Famed illustrators like Charles Dana Gibson, James Montgomery Flagg, Joseph Pennell, and N. C. Wyeth were roped in to create notable patriotic posters supporting causes such as armed forces enlistment, food conservation, and the purchase of Liberty Bonds.

Significant Facts

During its 28-month lifespan, the Committee had twenty bureaus and divisions, and 19 subdivisions which spanned nine countries. Each division was dedicated to a particular type of propaganda, the committee appointed famous essayists, academics, artists, journalists, businessmen, and celebrities to contribute to the war campaign.
Additionally, Creel organized 75,000 public speakers nicknamed 'Four Minute Men' who volunteered to give patriotic speeches for four minutes in public places, occasions, and schools to enlighten the public on topics such as the draft, rationing, Liberty Loans, victory gardens, and demands of the war.
The Committee established a film division in 1917 with the aid of Hollywood moguls such as D.W. Griffiths and Jesse Lasky. With the help of the Army Signal Corps cameramen, the Committee produced and circularized short and commercial feature films throughout the course of war.
They became immensely popular and helped raise funds for the war. Movies like The Kaiser: The Beast of Berlin, Wolves of Kultur, Our Colored Fighters, America's Answer, The Little American, Under Four Flags, and Pershing's Crusaders flooded the American theaters.
The committee used films as a medium to manipulate the emotions of the masses to cause large mobilization.
The CPI's Division of Pictorial Publicity produced over 1,400 billboard advertises to be displayed across the country. Some illustrations appealed the patriotic side while others integrated outraging anti-German imagery to tap and promote fear and hatred of the enemy.
The CPI's Division of News, distributed more than 6,000 press releases and role-played as the principal conduit for war-related information.
The Division of Civic and Educational Cooperation churned out powerful pamphlets titled The German Whisper, German War Practices, and Conquest and Kultur to further evoke the public sentiments.
The Creel Commission persistently spread its ideals through foreign media outlets, official statements, and features on American life and the war effort. The widely circulated free CPI daily newspaper, called the Official Bulletin consisted of 8 pages and had a 100,000 circulation to post offices, army bases, and other newspapers.
The music culture was also popularly used to promote patriotic fervor among the masses, songs like That's a Mother's Liberty Loan became well-known throughout the country.
The Committee on Public Information was operational only during the war period and it was formally dissolved by an act of Congress on 30th June, 1919.
The use of emotionally appealing words, slogans, cartoons, images, photographs, and creating a mental stereotype to attack the enemy was so successful that George Creel himself published a book on it titled 'How We Advertised America'. This charismatic campaign gained not only the public support but also won the war without the presence of a digital age.