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by A. Wayne Ferens
Images Courtesy of the Wayne Ferens Collection, the University of Illinois Archives and the Ad Council
Published 9.30.2020

Oldsmobile ad 1An Oldsmobile ad

During World War II, Americans supported the war effort and kept up to date on what was happening around the globe by any means available. Most households had a radio -- so people could listen to their local station that provided firsthand information delivered by special correspondents who were often themselves in the thick of the conflict. Local movie theatres would show newsreels depicting troop movements and battles mere days after they happened. In newspapers, magazines and billboards, every aspect of the war was on display, and so it was with consumer advertising. The automobile industry that played a crucial role in the war effort certainly was no exception.

Cadillac ad 2A Cadillac ad

Although some goods and services may not have been available or rationed to civilians, companies still stayed in the public eye by advertising their brand, and often with government help. Advertisements for everything from cigarettes, food products, tires, cameras, clothing, home products, batteries and pharmaceuticals portrayed the company’s involvement in the war effort as patriotic.  

Delco ad 3A Delco ad

Soon after the United States entered the war after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, all civilian auto production ceased by February 1942. Almost immediately, the U.S. Government established the War Advertising Council. Its purpose was to market the following ideas: nationwide sacrifice to the public; military enlistment; that this was a good war; sacrifice was important; and we were all in this together.

General Tire ad 4A General Tire ad

Americans were encouraged to donate goods, ration commodities and, most importantly -- BUY WAR BONDS. Those words appeared in almost every ad during the war years. Cooperation between the government and major corporations was unprecedented.

Pontiac ad 5A Pontiac ad

The auto industry’s participation in the War Advertising Council was voluntary, and companies received no compensation for doing so. One key benefit was that corporations could deduct up to 80 percent of their ad costs from their taxable incomes. Most companies joined the WAC when they realized what a good deal it was regardless if they had anything to sell.

Willys ad 6An ad for Willys, makers of the Jeep vehicle

Not only did the American automobile industry take this opportunity to be seen as the patriotic engine of the American economy, it kept their most important commodity in the public's eye -- their BRAND.

Chrysler ad 7A Chrysler ad

Ford ad 8A Ford Motor Company ad


University of Illinois Archives

The Story of The Ad Council,