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Promoting the War Effort

Robert Horton and Federal Propaganda, 1938-1948

Mordecai Lee

Publication Year: 2012

Though historians have largely overlooked Robert Horton, his public relations campaigns remain fixed in popular memory of the home front during World War II. Utilizing all media—including the nascent technology of television—to rally civilian support, Horton’s work ranged from educational documentary shorts like Pots to Planes, which depicted the transformation of aluminum household items into aircraft, to posters employing scare tactics, such as a German soldier with large eyes staring forward with the tagline “He’s Watching You.” Iconic and calculated, Horton’s campaigns raise important questions about the role of public relations in government agencies. When are promotional campaigns acceptable? Does war necessitate persuasive communication? What separates information from propaganda? Promoting the War Effort traces the career of Horton—the first book-length study to do so—and delves into the controversies surrounding federal public relations. A former reporter, Horton headed the public relations department for the U.S. Maritime Commission from 1938 to 1940. Then—until Pearl Harbor in December 1941—he directed the Division of Information (DOI) in the Executive Office of the President, where he played key roles in promoting the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unprecedented third-term reelection campaign, and the prewar arms-production effort. After Pearl Harbor, Horton’s DOI encouraged support for the war, primarily focusing on raising civilian and workforce morale. But the DOI under Horton assumed a different wartime tone than its World War I predecessor, the Committee on Public Information. Rather than whipping up prowar hysteria, Horton focused on developing campaigns for more practical purposes, such as conservation and production. In mid-1942, Roosevelt merged the Division and several other agencies into the Office of War Information. Horton stayed in government, working as the PR director for several agencies. He retired in mid-1946, during the postwar demobilization. Promoting the War Effort recovers this influential figure in American politics and contributes to the ongoing public debate about government public relations during a time when questions about how facts are disseminated—and spun—are of greater relevance than ever before.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Media and Public Affairs


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xviii

One thing leads to another. Researching a book on FDR’s Office of Government Reports (OGR), I often ran across references to OGR’s sister agency, the Division of Information (DOI) in the Office for Emergency Management. Both were within the new Executive Office of the...

List of Abbreviations

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p. xix

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Introduction: Government Public Relations: What’s OK and What’s not?

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pp. 1-8

The collective American historical consciousness and folk memories about World War II often include images of salvage-collection drives for aluminum pots and pans to be recycled for military uses, newsreels of America as the arsenal of democracy, shuttered factories springing back to life, posters...

Part I. Government PR in Peacetime

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1. Government PR for Widely Held values: Horton at the Maritime commission, 1938–1940

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pp. 11-21

Like most public relations officers in the federal government during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, Robert Horton was a former reporter. That earlier career contributed to his understanding of the role of the press in democracy...

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2. Government PR When the President is Running for Reelection: Horton at the National Defense Advisory Commission, June–November 1940

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pp. 22-58

As PR director for the Maritime Commission, Horton had to learn quickly the do’s and don’ts of government PR. It was not as though he had been thrown into the deep end of the pool, but professionally...

Part II. Government PR in the Twilight between Peace and War

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3. Horton at the Office of Production Management, November 1940–February 1941

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pp. 61-82

Everything changed with Roosevelt reelected. The omnipresent political fears, the cautious trimming of the sails, the efforts to keep a lid on bad news, and all other similar considerations could now be relaxed a bit—but not a lot. The United States was still a noncombatant in a war, public opinion...

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4. An overview of Horton’s Autonomous Division of Information, March–December 1941

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pp. 83-110

The “rules” of government public relations (as described in the introduction) were pretty clear in their application for times of peace and times of war. Only neutral information in peacetime, some persuasive communications..

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5. The Division of Information’s Programs and Management, March–December 1941

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pp. 111-142

In 1941, during its existence as an independent agency within OEM, DOI was at its fullest flowering as a government PR department when the United States was not at war. The preceding chapter recounted the traditional government PR...

Part III. Government PR in Wartime

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6. An Overview of Horton’s Autonomous Division of Information, December 1941–June 1942

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pp. 145-162

Contrary to popular memory, Pearl Harbor was not a bolt out of the blue, although the location of the attack was something of a surprise. Largely sifted out of the standard historical narrative is that there were several...

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7. The Division of Information’s Programs and Management, December 1941–June 1942

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pp. 163-179

Besides the most traditional government PR functions of press relations and public reporting, other now-standard DOI activities accelerated after Pearl Harbor, simply much, much more of what it had been doing before. Just...

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8. Horton and Government PR after the Division of Information, June 1942–June 1946

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pp. 180-186

About a month after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt asked Milton Eisenhower of the USDA Office of Information to prepare a study of wartime information needs. Working closely with BOB, Eisenhower surveyed...

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Conclusion: Robert Horton and the Practice of Government PR

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pp. 187-206

One of the two central themes of this inquiry relates to the issue of propaganda versus information in government public relations. As a general rule, the political culture that gradually emerged in Washington...


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pp. 207-254


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pp. 255-266


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pp. 267-278

E-ISBN-13: 9780807145302
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807145296

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Media and Public Affairs
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OCLC Number: 811507087
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Promoting the War Effort

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Subject Headings

  • Horton, Robert (Robert Wyman), b. 1902.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Propaganda.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- United States.
  • Propaganda, American -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1933-1945.
  • Public relations and politics -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Politics and war -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States. Office for Emergency Management. Division of Information -- Officials and employees -- Biography.
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