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Motivation station: A look at workplace motivational posters from the 1920s

While you are pondering your favorite Demotivators poster, consider the history of the motivational poster genre. It turns out our predecessors in the Greatest Generation needed to be inspired or, perhaps more to the point, advertisers decided they needed to tap the group’s general deep sense of faithful commitment to shape their behavior in the workplace.

action posters
An introduction to the series

 

In the early 1920s, salesman Charles Howard Rosenfeld proposed a series of motivational posters for workers to Charles Mather, who worked for his family’s Chicago printing house, the Mather Company. These “Constructive Organization Posters” were sold by subscription in over 300 varieties between 1923 and 1929.  In 1925, Rosenfeld and another Mather Company employee left to form their own printing company, C. J. Howard Inc., in order to sell their own line of “Action Posters.”

memo
Caption: The cards were 7” x 4.75”, designed to be displayed individually on workers’ desks on an easel.

 

xmas
The cards were printed as multicolored lithographs, often with striking designs. Unfortunately, the designer is not credited.

 

We have 28 examples of these “Action Posters,” printed instead as a set of cards promoting work habits and qualities that would help the business employee to advance. They hold up examples of those who: consciously earn their fellow workers’ respect, keep healthy and happy, do not worry or gossip, remain loyal to the company, provide accurate work and work steadily, seek constant improvement, have a winning attitude, make good suggestions, take criticism well, and follow through on instructions. All of these traits were in contrast to so-called problem employees, who were unhealthy, resentful, lacking in motivation, and destined to be employed elsewhere in the very near future.

parrots
A not-so subtle message about prattling at the water cooler.

 

new year
The Action Posters include seasonal well-wishes for employees.

 

We wish you Happy Holidays, no matter where you find your motivation.

Find more information, visit the catalog record for this item.

Post contributed by Alice Poffinberger, original cataloger/archivist for small manuscript collections. 

5 thoughts on “Motivation station: A look at workplace motivational posters from the 1920s”

  1. Great collection from the past, 10 years later our grand children will find our posters’ designs as old fashioned and classic..

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