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There's Always Steady Work for the Steady Worker
October 12, 2010 12:16 PM   Subscribe

Don't Make Excuses - Make Good! Between World Wars I and II, the U.S. economy was booming - workers had choices and employers competed for their time. How to motivate and gain loyalty from a labor force that knew it could walk out the door and find more work soon? Charles Mather, head of a family printing business in Chicago, offered employers a solution: the first motivational posters for the private workplace market. Printed between 1923 and 1929, Mather's "Work Incentive Posters" used strong imagery and short, clear messaging to encourage workplace values like teamwork, punctuality, safety, and loyalty. Today, some of his 350 designs can be seen in traveling exhibitions and poster galleries, and Antiques Road Show - or you can soak up some motivation from his modern-day successors at Successories - or generate your own.

There's also a similar series from the UK - the Bill Jones posters, which provided some inspiration and motivation to Mather himself.
posted by Miko (25 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Between World Wars I and II, the U.S. economy was booming

If you ignore that post-1929 bit.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:22 PM on October 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


You're right - it's definitely talked about in the article, but I should have constructed the posts differently. Until the Depression, that is. These posters do date from 1923-29, so it's really the boom years that gave rise to them, not the Depression years - which spawned their own, state-sponsored body of poster art.
posted by Miko at 12:23 PM on October 12, 2010


Oh man, I really really wish I had the guts to put this one up in my cube.
posted by JoanArkham at 12:23 PM on October 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


These are a fascinating private-sector counterpoint to the WPA health and safety posters. Prints from the same gallery behind Shorpy.
posted by djb at 12:30 PM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Where is the one with the dangling kitten captioned "HANG IN THERE?"
posted by entropicamericana at 12:32 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a vicious, destructive representative of the angry mob, I feel that the democratic sentiment epxressed in the first line of this one really speaks to me.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:36 PM on October 12, 2010


There definitely aren't enough "THE ENEMY IS SYPHILIS" posters in my office. Might have to do something about that.

I'm also a big fan of the creepy "Criticism" one from the 1927 private sector set.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:38 PM on October 12, 2010


HOLY SHIT I NEED THIS ONE NEXT TO MY LIQUOR
posted by Greg Nog at 12:42 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I got excited by a couple of these, since I'm looking for awesome wall art and the style is right up my alley. But alas, there don't seem to be repros available and I can't really afford originals.
posted by padraigin at 12:44 PM on October 12, 2010


I love how clear and to the point these things are. Except this one, which makes no sense to me. Can anyone interpret?
posted by .kobayashi. at 12:45 PM on October 12, 2010


> Where is the one with the dangling kitten captioned "HANG IN THERE?"

"Efficient or not, that businessman must be long dead. That's kind of a downer."
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:46 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Except this one, which makes no sense to me. Can anyone interpret?

That was one was mostly just for Missouri, which had a notorious giantess problem in 1925.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:47 PM on October 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


I love how clear and to the point these things are. Except this one, which makes no sense to me. Can anyone interpret?

It means both "Don't step in front of speeding cars, you clumsy idiot!" and "Don't run over pedestrians, you clumsy idiot!" That's value.
posted by Daddy-O at 12:53 PM on October 12, 2010


Good old Successories. I am utterly at a loss when I try to imagine someone being inspired to greater levels of productivity by those posters. Patrick Bateman, maybe.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:57 PM on October 12, 2010


...workers had choices and employers competed for their time.

Good thing we got away from that craziness.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:59 PM on October 12, 2010


alas, there don't seem to be repros available

There would certainly be a good market for repros of these posters. It seems that at this point, most are in private collections, as is true of so much 20th century ephemera. Hopefully, someday they'll end up in a museum or university setting where they can be licensed for reproduction.
posted by Miko at 1:00 PM on October 12, 2010


Every time I see an actual motivational poster hanging unironically in an office, I can't help but to think about these.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:01 PM on October 12, 2010


UNFAIR FOR BABIES
posted by shothotbot at 1:04 PM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just in case someone hasn't seen the modern inversion- Despair!
posted by LD Feral at 1:31 PM on October 12, 2010


Holy crabcakes! Mr. Scratch found this one in the trash room of the building he used to work in, in Manhattan. Whoa. *gobsmacked* I'm looking at it right now. Thanks, Miko!
posted by scratch at 3:11 PM on October 12, 2010


Wow. That's amazing.
posted by Miko at 3:16 PM on October 12, 2010


Yeah, figure the odds of (1) you posting about these and (2) me seeing it. Up Metafilter!
posted by scratch at 3:47 PM on October 12, 2010


Thorzdad, this is my sci-fi geek favourite in that vein.
posted by wilful at 4:49 PM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I print for, and share office space with, the Despair guys. I'm thinking that this has got to be some sort of font of inspiration. Awesome stuff.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:01 PM on October 12, 2010


"Shirkers Land No Prizes" sounds like the title of an experimental Irish novel from the 1930s.
posted by No-sword at 12:53 AM on October 13, 2010


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