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25 Weird and Wonderful Vintage Health Posters

“Nurse the baby!” “Eat fruit!” “Syphilis is a menace to industry!” “Pneumonia strikes like a man-eating shark!” Those are just some of the headlines on health posters from the 1930s and 1940s government-funded Works Progress Administration (WPA) as part of the New Deal agency created during the Great Depression. Besides building roads and other structures across the country, the WPA employed a slew of extremely talented artists to create posters warning of health issues plaguing the country at the time.

There would be simple reminders to do things like eat good foods and get screened for various conditions, and warnings not to spread syphilis to your family, a disease which could be deadly in the days before the proliferation of antibiotics.

Check out this stunning collection of vintage health posters:

  • John Is Not Really Dull 1 of 24
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    Oh, poor Johnny. A tale that has been told many times. Teachers, or parents, believe their kid isn't very bright, but it turns out he just needs glasses.

  • Nurse the Baby 2 of 24
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    I love how this is a command — so direct. I'm also intrigued by the odd wording: "nurse the baby, your protection against trouble." It's pretty vague about said trouble, but you can always "consult your doctor."

  • A Good Lunch 3 of 24
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    The WPA school lunch poster is a very brief primer on a "healthy" lunch that includes one hot dish AND a sandwich.

  • Cancer Control 4 of 24
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    The American Cancer Society started out in 1913 as the American Society for the Control of Cancer (ASCC). Their job was to raise awareness about cancer, a disease that back then was considered "taboo" and "was steeped in fear and denial." They changed their name in 1945.

  • Cancer Kills 5 of 24
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    An eerie poster from the American Society for the Control of Cancer stating that "cancer kills in the prime of life." The designer of this poster opted to be punny and add in a crab for their icon for cancer.

  • Fight Cancer 6 of 24
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    This is a great early example of the sword being used as the logo for the American Cancer Society.

  • Destroy Syphilis 7 of 24
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    Images of kids playing on a poster for the prevention of syphilis isn't what you would expect. But back then, syphilis was far more common — and deadly — than it is today. 

  • Shame May Be Fatal 8 of 24
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    There is, naturally, a lot of shame related to a diagnosis of a "social disease." This poster encourages those who could be carrying an illness to get help, because "shame may be fatal." This poster is still relevant today.

  • Report Dog Bites 9 of 24
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    How common were dog bites back then? This makes me wonder if rabies was a bigger problem in that time.

  • The Stork 10 of 24
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    These days, going to see a doctor when you are pregnant is standard. But back in the day, it appears, from the existence of this poster, that women needed to be reminded to do so.

  • Your Hands! 11 of 24
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    Back then, manual labor was the main calling for the workforce. I'm guessing they didn't have the safety regulations then that we do today!

  • Save Your Eyes 12 of 24
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    Another reminder to work carefully.

  • The Enemy 13 of 24
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    In the midst of wartime, this poster addressed a different enemy.

  • Fight Tuberculosis 14 of 24
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    Obey the rules of health! Shouldn't we all?

  • Pneumonia 15 of 24
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    This one is pretty fascinating (and quite dramatic, I might add). 

  • Just a Scratch 16 of 24
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    First aid has always been important. This one is also still relevant in 2013!

  • Menace to Industry 17 of 24
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    Here's a syphilis warning that hits at the pocketbook.

  • Eat Fruit 18 of 24
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    A beautiful reminder to eat more fruit. It's quite modern looking!

  • Yup, More Syphilis 19 of 24
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    The National Institute of Health states, "Congenital syphilis is a severe, disabling, and often life-threatening infection seen in infants. A pregnant mother who has syphilis can spread the disease through the placenta to the unborn infant." This poster brings attention to those women who are pregnant and who have the disease.

  • Ignorantly Nurtured 20 of 24
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    I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. 

  • Don’t Kiss Me! 21 of 24
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    A poster to try to stop the spread of TB, and really, several other illnesses.

  • Protect Her 22 of 24
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    Besides protecting babies, this one encourages you to protect all the women in your life. 

  • Planned Housing 23 of 24
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    Apparently planned housing fights disease, at least according to the New York City Housing Authority.

  • Your Family 24 of 24
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    It's interesting to see the family angle in a syphilis poster.

Photo Source: Library of Congress/WPA Posters Collection

 

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