40 Eye-Opening Vintage Public Health Posters From The 1940s

If you’re going to invoke hyperbole, it might as well be in the name of public health — at least that was the logic of public health workers in the early-to-mid 20th century. Reminiscent of propaganda posters, these occasionally (unintentionally) funny vintage posters actually made quite an impact on everything from slowing the spread of infectious disease, to bringing home the importance of vaccinations:

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Vintage Health Posters Syphilis Crippler Copy

Before the widespread use of antibiotics, syphilis plagued the world for centuries. Starting in the 1930s, public health posters promoting the prevention and early detection of the STD became widespread.

Vintage Health Posters Shame Too Long

Campaigns sought to achieve early detection — in part by downplaying the shame of contracting the disease.

Vintage Health Posters Children Dinosaurs

Passage of the disease from mother to child was very common, making it vital to educate the public on the risk it posed to children — as well as the fact that a cure had been found in penicillin (albeit too late for the dinosaurs, apparently).

Vintage Health Posters Tuberculosis March

Tuberculosis is another highly contagious bacterial disease spread through the air — apparently by breathing, coughing, laughing, or speaking.

Vintage Health Posters Swim Shark

Swimming is a great exercise that can keep you healthy if done in sanitary pools. It may also be an important skill in escaping the pneumonia shark.

Vintage Health Posters Points Hurdles

Tuberculosis posters encouraging testing were everywhere.

Vintage Health Posters Grades Together

Some TB campaigns even linked good health with good grades.

Vintage Health Posters Flower Obey

The well-meaning and colorful posters could be visually confusing, though; the imagery in the two shown here has nothing to do with prevention or treatment of the disease.

Vintage Health Posters Expecting Breastfeeding

The proper health of expectant mothers and infants were less understood subjects than they are today.

Vintage Health Posters Vaccination Lifelong

Education on vaccinations and children’s health and safety became very import topics of the public health system.

Vintage Health Posters Nurtured Firecrackers

Many public health educators used ridicule and fear to shame parents into proper child rearing habits, such as not letting them play with firecrackers...

Vintage Health Posters Milk Eat

...or encouraging the consumption of dairy products.

Vintage Health Posters Fruit Balanced

Some of the advice was at least a little better than others, such as telling people to eat a balanced diet.

Vintage Health Posters John Vision

Public health activists also championed regular vision tests...

Vintage Health Posters Clean Swan

...as well as the connection between hygiene and health.

Vintage Health Posters Liberty Fight

Early public health posters presented cancer as a nemesis to be fought — a trend you still see today.

Vintage Health Posters Early Women

The posters also emphasized that early detection was critical to increasing the chances of survival.

Vintage Health Posters Kills Three

The posters also emphasized that while often terminal, there were multiple treatment options available, and that a cancer diagnosis did not always mean a death sentence.

Vintage Health Posters Bite Scratch

With a public generally uninformed about infection-related risks, public health workers underscored the dangers of everything — from dog bites to injuries in the work place.

Vintage Health Posters Sanitary Diptheria

Public education of toxoids such as the tetanus shot (as well as greatly improved home sanitation) also directly led to the decrease of fatal infections, such as diphtheria.

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All posters here can be found in The Library of Congress Print and Photograph Catalog.


Next, be sure to check out these Soviet-era propaganda posters, or see Communist-era posters for Oscar-worthy Hollywood movies.

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