In January of 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood before the United States Congress and gave his State of the Union Address. In this speech he hoped to explain to both government and citizens alike that the decision to enter into WWII a month earlier was the correct one. It is in this now famous speech that FDR proclaimed that all humans in the world have the right to four distinct “freedoms”.
These include: Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Fear, Freedom of Worship, and Freedom from Want.
This declaration is seen to many as the moment the American government changed their views on participating in international affairs.
Several months later in Vermont, successful illustrator Norman Rockwell was completing a poster design for the U.S. Army, and trying to think of what his next work for the war effort could be about.
Rockwell was inspired by F.D.R.’s speech, but struggled with how to illustrate the broad principles it represented. Of the idea, he explained, “It was so darned high-blown…Somehow I just couldn’t get my mind around it.”
He attended a local town hall meeting one evening, and when a concerned citizen stood to voice an unpopular opinion, Rockwell knew he had struck on how to illustrate the Freedoms. He recognized that if he used scenes from everyday middle American life, the broad concepts of universal freedom would become easier to relate to.
Rockwell presented the rough sketches of his ideas to the government, but was denied the commission due to a lack of funding. Knowing that he had a good idea on his hands, he presented these same sketches to his employer, The Saturday Evening Post.
The Post recognized the importance of Rockwell’s concept and he was given the go-ahead to create paintings from his sketches. In 1943, the paintings were complete and were published in a series of Post issues along with essays written by various accomplished authors.
These issues were such a huge success that Post received over 25,000 letters from citizens inquiring about how to purchase prints of the paintings.
In May of that same year, the Post and the U.S. Treasury co-sponsored a national tour of the four paintings Rockwell had created. At each of the 16 cities the exhibition stopped in, war bonds could be purchased. With any bond purchased at the show, the purchaser would receive a set of prints of the paintings.
The national tour of paintings was a success, visited by over a million people and helping to sell 133 million dollars in war bonds, and the posters have become a part of American iconography.