Medicine & Disease – a peek at the Poster

Image: A photo of a 1918 poster issued by Alberta’s Provincial Board of Health alerting the public to the 1918 influenza epidemic.
Image credit: Alberta Board of Health, Wikimedia Commons

When learning about Inchkeith Island and St Kilda, I was reintroduced to a previous fascination of mine – looking at old disease and medical posters. 

I came across the above poster relating to the Spanish Flu epidemic from 1918, while having a look at mask related items – very apt for current times. 

I have always found the different styles and designs of these fascinating, both in the artistry and propaganda style messages. Therefore, for this week’s post, I thought I would share several posters I have recently found. There are many out there, but here is a wee selection…

Medicinal Posters

Today there are very few actual adverts for medical purposes, especially in the UK but many historical posters advertising different medicines or other suggested ailment remedies always have a lot of detail on them. 

The first image below claims the specifically advertised Cranes Little Bon-Bon pills to not only cure a ‘torpid liver’, but also help give a beautiful complexion.

Many adverts for cures and remedies around the 19th century made claims like the above. Many of these medicines were owned by specific individuals and patents – ‘proprietary medicine’ – and a Parliamentary register in 1830 listed over 1,300 of these. Many of these contained opium or alcohol, rather than actually treating the patient’s complaint.

The second advert in the above slideshow for ‘Zundra’ even claims that other headache powders cause death.

United Star-Herb Medicine Co., in the final image above, was founded in October 1922, to import and sell German herbal remedies. The company’s owner, Ludwig Hohlwein visited the United States in 1923, and it is thought this poster was designed during or shortly after his visit.

Disease warning posters

The other style of poster I have been intrigued by are those warning people of specific diseases of the time, much like the Flu epidemic poster above. 

Coming across the below posters from the Work Projects Administration (WPA), an initiative in the USA in the late 1930-1940s that put hundreds of thousands of American to work on public projects, it is clear there is definitely an air of fear and terror for syphilis at the time…

Images above (clockwise from top left):

  • PSA Poster created by WPA artists to combat the spread of syphilis, 1940, (Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons)
  • PSA Poster created by WPA artists to combat the spread of syphilis, 1939, (Nate Anderson, Wikimedia Commons)
  • Poster warning of the dangers to children from syphilis, showing a young girl standing with a crutch, 1936 (Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons)
  • Poster for treatment of syphilis, c. 1936 (Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons)

Further fear based posters were released during the Second World War.

Image:  “Fight Syphilis and Gonorrhea” poster from the US Office of War Information, Domestic Operations Branch, 1941-1945
Image Credit: National Archives, Wikimedia Commons

To end my wee journey of some posters, I found a selection of Tuberculosis based images, again spreading a little bit of fear like those above, the first of which was also released by the WPA.

Image: Poster about tuberculosis in children and methods of transmission, 1941
Image Credit: Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons

Image: Poster with illustration of Santa Claus holding a letter, as part of the ‘Stamping out tuberculosis’ campaign, 1924
Image Credit: National Tuberculosis Association, Wikimedia Commons

The above Christmas based poster relates to a campaign that began earlier in the 20th Century, to try and raise money to help support tuberculosis sanatoriums around the US.

And lastly, I come to a poster I particularly like. It comes from Italy and I enjoy mostly for its art – I do like things that are a bit darker, a bit ‘goth’…

Image: An Italian Red Cross poster appealing for help in providing assistance in tuberculosis care. The image shows a giant spider, representing tuberculosis, catching crowds of humans in its web, c. 1920
Image Credit: Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons

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