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United States Office of War Information

United States Office of War Information

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The United States Office of War Information (OWI) was a U.S. government agency created during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 to consolidate government information services. It operated from June 1942 until September 1945. It coordinated the release of war news for domestic use, and, using poster
A poster is any piece of printed paper designed to be attached to a wall or vertical surface. Typically posters include both textual and graphic elements, although a poster may be either wholly graphical or wholly text. Posters are designed to be both eye-catching and informative. Posters may be...

s and radio broadcasts, worked to promote patriotism, warned about foreign spies and attempted to recruit women into war work. The office also established an overseas branch which launched a large scale information and propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

 campaign abroad.


The OWI was established by Executive Order 9182 on June 13, 1942, to consolidate the functions of the Office of Facts and Figures, OWI's direct predecessor; the Office of Government Reports, and the division of information of the Office for Emergency Management. The Foreign Intelligence Service, Outpost, Publication, and Pictorial Branches of the Office of the Coordinator of Information
Office of the Coordinator of Information
The Office of the Coordinator of Information was an intelligence and propaganda agency of the United States Government, founded on July 11, 1941 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, prior to U.S. involvement in the Second World War...

 were also transferred to the OWI. (The Executive order creating OWI, however, stated that dissemination of information to the Latin American countries should be continued by the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs
Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs
The Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs was a United States agency promoting inter-American cooperation during the 1940s, especially in commercial and economic areas...

.) Elmer Davis
Elmer Davis
Elmer Davis was a well-known news reporter, author, the Director of the United States Office of War Information during World War II and a Peabody Award recipient.-Education and early career:...

, who was a CBS newsman, was named director of OWI.

Among its wide-ranging responsibilities, OWI sought to review and approve the design and content of government posters. OWI officials felt that the most urgent problem on the home front was the careless leaking of sensitive information that could be picked up by spies and saboteurs.

OWI directly produced radio series such as This is Our Enemy (spring 1942), which dealt with Germany, Japan, and Italy; Uncle Sam, which dealt with domestic themes; and Hasten the Day (August 1943), which was about the Home Front. In addition, OWI cleared commercial network scripts through its Domestic Radio Bureau, including the NBC Blue Network's Chaplain Jim. In addition, radio producer Norman Corwin
Norman Corwin
Norman Lewis Corwin was an American writer, screenwriter, producer, essayist and teacher of journalism and writing...

 produced several series for OWI, including An American in England, An American in Russia, and Passport for Adams, which starred actor Robert Young
Robert Young (actor)
Robert George Young was an American television, film, and radio actor, best known for his leading roles as Jim Anderson, the father of Father Knows Best and as physician Marcus Welby in Marcus Welby, M.D. .-Early life:Born in Chicago, Illinois, Young was the son of an Irish immigrant father...

. Several thousand lacquer discs (records), made by the Office of War Information were later transferred to the Library of Congress. There are more than eight thousand programs in English that include propaganda broadcasts from 1942 through 1945. Recruiting women, from home, to support the wartime effort was a job that the OWI deemed for the radio. Eventually there was too much war program activity. There was such a rivalry between broadcasters that the Office of Facts and Figures (Later renamed the OWI) started scheduling the broadcasts. A constant channel of communication between the OWI and professional radio allowed, from time to time, the re-examination of policy and that often raised questions or disputes. Program technique was often in question. Some advertising agencies believed that the war message should be regarded and treated as sales, separated from the entertainment portions. This would achieve a more clairvoyant point of view. The contrary point of view advocated that war messages were to be put directly into radio story-line messaging.

During 1942 and 1943, the OWI contained two photographic units whose photographers documented the country's mobilization during the early years of the war, concentrating on such topics as aircraft factories and women in the workforce
Women in the workforce
Until modern industrialized times, legal and cultural practices, combined with the inertia of longstanding religious and educational traditions, had restricted women's entry and participation in the workforce. Economic dependency upon men, and consequently the poor socio-economic status of women...

In addition, the OWI produced a series of 267 newsreels in 16 mm film, The United Newsreel which were shown overseas and to U.S. audiences. These newsreels incorporated U.S. military footage. Examples can be seen at this Google list.

OWI also established the Voice of America
Voice of America
Voice of America is the official external broadcast institution of the United States federal government. It is one of five civilian U.S. international broadcasters working under the umbrella of the Broadcasting Board of Governors . VOA provides a wide range of programming for broadcast on radio...

 in 1942, which remains in service today as the official government broadcasting service of the United States. The VOA's initial transmitters were loaned from the commercial networks, and among the programs OWI produced were those provided by the Labor Short Wave Bureau, whose material came from the American Federation of Labor
American Federation of Labor
The American Federation of Labor was one of the first federations of labor unions in the United States. It was founded in 1886 by an alliance of craft unions disaffected from the Knights of Labor, a national labor association. Samuel Gompers was elected president of the Federation at its...

 and the Congress of Industrial Organizations
Congress of Industrial Organizations
The Congress of Industrial Organizations, or CIO, proposed by John L. Lewis in 1932, was a federation of unions that organized workers in industrial unions in the United States and Canada from 1935 to 1955. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 required union leaders to swear that they were not...

The Bureau of Motion Pictures (BMP) was formed under OWI to network with Hollywood. Every film had the opportunity to diminish or enhance America’s war effort, and America's reputation abroad. According to Elmer Davis
Elmer Davis
Elmer Davis was a well-known news reporter, author, the Director of the United States Office of War Information during World War II and a Peabody Award recipient.-Education and early career:...

, director of OWI in 1942, “The easiest way to inject a propaganda idea into most people’s minds is to let it go through the medium of an entertainment picture when they do not realize that they are being propagandized.” Films that had the most impression received the most attention, and included those depicting the armed forces, showing the United States as a democratic nation or a united society, and also the ideology of the enemy. Until July 1942 influence was placed on Hollywood only by patriotic persuasion, by review of movies already produced prior to release, and by the “Manual for the Motion-Picture Industry”. In July, OWI found the best way to have an effect upon Hollywood was to be present during the production of feature films. This was a result of the screening of Little Tokyo, U.S.A.
Little Tokyo, U.S.A.
Little Tokyo, U.S.A. is an American film, produced during World War II, that was condemned by United States Office of War Information as an "invitation to the Witch Hunt", preaching hate for all people of Japanese descent.-Plot:...

 which showed a complete intolerance for Japanese-Americans. The main focus in favor of the war effort should be security of the nation, not the ideals set forth by the writers and producers. The presence of OWI in Hollywood was enhanced as time went by, and by the fourth quarter in 1943 every studio, except for Paramount, allowed OWI to read all movie scripts. Overall, Hollywood was interested in helping with the war effort, and was mostly cooperative. Although, OWI had no censorship powers and failure to comply had no repercussions, their question to studios was simple: “Will this picture help us win the war?”

The Psychological Warfare Branch, used radio and print media to demoralize enemy soldiers and to discourage enemy civilians. Print media was distributed in two manners: newspapers written in the foreign language and “leaflet warfare”. Initially a modest industry, leaflet warfare boomed during World War II. It was utilized in Northern Africa, Italy, Germany, Philippines, and Japan. For example, during the war in Japan, the OWI printed and dropped over 180 million leaflets, with about 98 million being dropped the summer months of 1945.
The other forms of media were newspapers and publicized magazines. Magazines distributed to foreign audiences, such as Victory, moved to show how the people of America were contributing to the war. Victory was used to showcase the American manufacturing power and to foster an appreciation for the American lifestyle.

Aside from the aforementioned publication and production styles of propaganda, the Office of War information also utilized miscellaneous and unconventional ways of delivering messages known as "specialty items." Specific examples of these items include packets of seeds, matchbooks, soap paper, and sewing kits. The packets of seeds had an American flag and a message printed on the outside which identified the donor. The matchbooks were inscribed with the Four Freedoms on the inside of the covers, which were then widespread overseas. One of the more detailed records comes with the soap paper. The paper was meant to lather the body quickly, and was transfused with a message: "From your friends the United Nations. Dip in water - use like soap. WASH OFF THE NAZI DIRT." The sewing kit included a unique pincushion. The side that was used to stick the pins was shaped like a human rear end. On the other side, a caricatured face of either Hitler or Japanese General Hideki Tojo was imprinted.

The Foreign Moral Analysis division of Pacific affairs, under the leadership of George E. Taylor
George E. Taylor
George Edward Taylor was a prolific and influential scholar of Chinese studies, professor at University of Washington, Seattle from 1939 to 1969, and director of the Far Eastern and Russian Institute at the University of Washington from 1946 to 1969. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen on May...

 commissioned a series of studies designed to help policymakers' understanding of enemy psychology. Among these studies were The Chrysanthemum and the Sword
The Chrysanthemum and the Sword
The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture is an influential 1946 study of Japan by American anthropologist Ruth Benedict written at the invitation of the U.S. Office of War Information in order to understand and predict the behavior of the Japanese in World War II by reference...

 by Ruth Benedict
Ruth Benedict
Ruth Benedict was an American anthropologist, cultural relativist, and folklorist....

 and John Embree
John Embree
John F. Embree was an American anthropologist and academic who specialized in the study of Japan.-Career:John Embree received his B.A. from the University of Hawaii in 1931, his M.A. from the University of Toronto in 1934 and his Ph.D from the University of Chicago in 1937...

’s The Japanese Nation: A Social Survey (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1945).


Among the many people who worked for the OWI were Jay Bennett (author)
Jay Bennett (author)
Jay Bennett was an American author and two-time winner of the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Bennett won the Edgar for Best Juvenile novel in 1974 and 1975, for The Long Black Coat and The Dangling Witness , respectively...

, Humphrey Cobb
Humphrey Cobb
Humphrey Cobb was a screenwriter and novelist. He is best known for writing the novel Paths of Glory, which was made into an acclaimed 1957 movie by Stanley Kubrick. Cobb was also the lead screenwriter on the 1937 movie San Quentin, starring Humphrey Bogart.Cobb was born in Siena, Italy...

, Alan Cranston
Alan Cranston
Alan MacGregor Cranston was an American journalist and Democratic Senator from California.-Education:Cranston earned his high school diploma from the old Mountain View High School, where among other things, he was a track star...

, Milton S. Eisenhower
Milton S. Eisenhower
Milton Stover Eisenhower, served as president of three major American universities: Kansas State University, the Pennsylvania State University, and the Johns Hopkins University. He was the younger brother of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Edgar N. Eisenhower, and Earl D...

, Ernestine Evans
Ernestine Evans
Ernestine Evans was a journalist, editor, author and literary agent.-Life:Born in Omaha, Nebraska, she lived in Elkhart, Indiana during her childhood and attended the University of Chicago, receiving a Bachelor of Philosophy degree in 1912. She was arrested in 1917, along with Peggy Baird Johns...

, John Fairbank, Lee Falk
Lee Falk
Lee Falk, born Leon Harrison Gross , was an American writer, theater director, and producer, best known as the creator of the popular comic strip superheroes The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician, who at the height of their popularity attracted over a hundred million readers every day...

, Howard Fast
Howard Fast
Howard Melvin Fast was an American novelist and television writer. Fast also wrote under the pen names E. V. Cunningham and Walter Ericson.-Early life:Fast was born in New York City...

, Alexander Hammid, Jane Jacobs
Jane Jacobs
Jane Jacobs, was an American-Canadian writer and activist with primary interest in communities and urban planning and decay. She is best known for The Death and Life of Great American Cities , a powerful critique of the urban renewal policies of the 1950s in the United States...

, Lewis Wade Jones
Lewis Wade Jones
Lewis Wade Jones was a sociologist and educator. He was born in Cuero, Texas, the son of Wade E. and Lucynthia McDade Jones. A member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, he received his A.B...

, David Karr
David Karr
David Harold Karr, born David Katz was a controversial American journalist, businessman, and Communist....

, Philip Keeney
Philip Keeney
Philip Olin Keeney , and his wife, Mary Jane Keeney, were librarians who became part of the Silvermaster spy ring in the 1940s.Keeney met Mary Jane when both were working as librarians at the University of Michigan in 1929. In 1931, he became head librarian at Montana State University at Missoula...

, Christina Krotkova
Christina Krotkova
Christina Krotkova worked in the Office of War Information during World War II. The OWI handled war news for domestic use and overseas propaganda. Krotkova's chief target was Soviet defector Victor Kravchenko. Haynes and Klehr have identified Krotkova as allegedly using several code names with...

, Owen Lattimore
Owen Lattimore
Owen Lattimore was an American author, educator, and influential scholar of Central Asia, especially Mongolia. In the 1930s he was editor of Pacific Affairs, a journal published by the Institute of Pacific Relations, and then taught at Johns Hopkins University from 1938 to 1963...

, Murray Leinster
Murray Leinster
Murray Leinster was a nom de plume of William Fitzgerald Jenkins, an award-winning American writer of science fiction and alternate history...

, Paul Linebarger
Cordwainer Smith
Cordwainer Smith – pronounced CORDwainer – was the pseudonym used by American author Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger for his science fiction works. Linebarger was a noted East Asia scholar and expert in psychological warfare...

, Irving Lerner
Irving Lerner
Irving Lerner Before becoming a filmmaker, Lerner was a research editor for Columbia University's Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, getting his start in film by making documentaries for the anthropology department. In the early 1930s, he was a member of the Workers Film and Photo League, and later,...

, Archibald MacLeish
Archibald MacLeish
Archibald MacLeish was an American poet, writer, and the Librarian of Congress. He is associated with the Modernist school of poetry. He received three Pulitzer Prizes for his work.-Early years:...

, Edgar Ansel Mowrer
Edgar Ansel Mowrer
Edgar Ansel Mowrer was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author best known for his writings on international events.Born in Bloomington, Illinois, Mowrer graduated from the University of Michigan in 1913...

, Charles Olson
Charles Olson
Charles Olson , was a second generation American modernist poet who was a link between earlier figures such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and the New American poets, which includes the New York School, the Black Mountain School, the Beat poets, and the San Francisco Renaissance...

, Gordon Parks
Gordon Parks
Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks was a groundbreaking American photographer, musician, poet, novelist, journalist, activist and film director...

, James Reston
James Reston
James Barrett Reston , nicknamed "Scotty," was an American journalist whose career spanned the mid 1930s to the early 1990s. He was associated for many years with the New York Times.-Life:...

, Peter Rhodes
Peter Rhodes
Peter Christopher Rhodes was an American journalist born in Manila. FBI files note a discrepancy between his date of birth and that given to the Selective Service Commission. Rhodes early background information is among extensive redactions in his FBI file....

, Arthur Rothstein
Arthur Rothstein
Arthur Rothstein was an American photographer.Rothstein is recognized as one of America’s premier photojournalists. During a career that spanned five decades, he provoked, entertained and informed the American people...

, Waldo Salt
Waldo Salt
Waldo Miller Salt was an American screenwriter who was blacklisted by the Hollywood movie studio bosses during the era of McCarthyism.-Early life and career:...

, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr. was an American historian and social critic whose work explored the American liberalism of political leaders including Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. A Pulitzer Prize winner, Schlesinger served as special assistant and "court historian"...

, William Stephenson
William Stephenson
Sir William Samuel Stephenson, CC, MC, DFC was a Canadian soldier, airman, businessman, inventor, spymaster, and the senior representative of British intelligence for the entire western hemisphere during World War II. He is best known by his wartime intelligence codename Intrepid...

, George E. Taylor
George E. Taylor
George Edward Taylor was a prolific and influential scholar of Chinese studies, professor at University of Washington, Seattle from 1939 to 1969, and director of the Far Eastern and Russian Institute at the University of Washington from 1946 to 1969. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen on May...

, Chester S. Williams
Chester Sidney Williams
Chester Sidney Williams was an American educator and author who wrote extensively about education and freedoms.Williams received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. He worked as a representative of the Convention des Etudiants from 1928-1929. From 1930-1931 he was...

, and Flora Wovschin
Flora Wovschin
Flora Don Wovschin , was a Soviet spy who later renounced her American citizenship.She was born in New York City. Her mother was Maria Wicher and her stepfather was Enos Wicher. She attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Columbia University and Barnard College...

Many of these people were active supporters of President Roosevelt's New Deal
New Deal
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call...

 and extolled the President's policies in OWI-supported radio programs such as This is War, which irritated Congressional opponents.

Some of the writers, producers, and actors of OWI programs admired the Soviet Union and were either loosely affiliated with or were members of the Communist Party USA
Communist Party USA
The Communist Party USA is a Marxist political party in the United States, established in 1919. It has a long, complex history that is closely related to the histories of similar communist parties worldwide and the U.S. labor movement....

. The director of Pacific operations for the OWI, Owen Lattimore, who later accompanied U.S. Vice-President Henry Wallace
Henry A. Wallace
Henry Agard Wallace was the 33rd Vice President of the United States , the Secretary of Agriculture , and the Secretary of Commerce . In the 1948 presidential election, Wallace was the nominee of the Progressive Party.-Early life:Henry A...

 on a mission to China and Mongolia in 1944, was later alleged to be a Soviet agent on the basis of testimony by a defector from the Soviet GRU
GRU or Glavnoye Razvedyvatel'noye Upravleniye is the foreign military intelligence directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation...

, General Alexander Barmine
Alexander Barmine
Alexander Gregory Barmine was an officer in the Soviet Army who fled the purges of the Joseph Stalin era. After settling in France, he later moved to the United States where he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private during World War II as an anti-aircraft gunner, later joining the Office of...

. In his final report, Elmer Davis noted that he had fired 35 employees, because of past Communist associations, though the FBI
Federal Bureau of Investigation
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agency of the United States Department of Justice that serves as both a federal criminal investigative body and an internal intelligence agency . The FBI has investigative jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crime...

 files showed no formal allegiance to the CPUSA.

Soviet spy

Flora Wovschin
Flora Wovschin
Flora Don Wovschin , was a Soviet spy who later renounced her American citizenship.She was born in New York City. Her mother was Maria Wicher and her stepfather was Enos Wicher. She attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Columbia University and Barnard College...

 was later revealed to have been a Soviet spy. At Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 she met Marion Davis Berdecio
Marion Davis Berdecio
Marion Davis Berdecio born Marion Davis, and married to Roberto Berdecio.Marion Davis Berdecio worked on the staff of the Office of Naval Intelligence at the United States Embassy in Mexico City. She was allegedly recruited into Soviet intelligence accomplished during World War II along with...

 and Judith Coplon
Judith Coplon
Judith Coplon Socolov was one of the first major figures tried in the United States for spying for the former Soviet Union; problems in her trials in 1949–50 had a profound influence on espionage prosecutions during the McCarthy era.-Work and arrest:Coplon obtained a job in the Department of...

, both of whom Wovschin recruited into service for the Soviet NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

 spy agency. After World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, she renounced her U.S. citizenship and lived in the Soviet Union.

Opposition and termination

Congressional opposition to the domestic operations of the OWI resulted in increasingly curtailed funds. In 1943, the OWI's appropriations were cut out of the fiscal year 1944 budget and only restored with strict restrictions on what OWI could do domestically. Many branch offices were closed and the Motion Picture Bureau was closed down. By 1944 the OWI operated mostly in the foreign field, contributing to undermining enemy morale. The agency was abolished in 1945, and its foreign functions were transferred to the Department of State
United States Department of State
The United States Department of State , is the United States federal executive department responsible for international relations of the United States, equivalent to the foreign ministries of other countries...


The OWI was terminated, effective September 15, 1945, by an executive order of August 31, 1945.

External links