Men work in the shadow of a dock, pushing and carrying war supplies from a ship’s hold onto a train boxcar; a bright background behind shows ships moored, a boom crane and a billowing American flag. All this is depicted in a poster from the National WWI Museum and Memorial’s archives and currently on view in Ellis Gallery as part of the Why Keep That? exhibition. The working men are African American stevedores in the Army Transport Service at St. Nazaire, France, one of nine base ports through which supplies arrived and began their transport inland.
This poster came to be part of the Museum and Memorial’s collection unexpectedly. It was part of a larger donation from an individual whose father, officer Lt. Henry Eby, served in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. The poster was folded and tucked into the back of a donated photo album, almost as an afterthought. It was accompanied by a letter from Lt. Eby to his father dated Dec. 6, 1918 that referenced the poster’s inspiration and his fellow Quartermaster Corps officer, Lt. Ely Behar, who created it. The poster is also inscribed by Lt. Behar to Lt. Eby, which you can see in the high-resolution photograph of the poster available on Google Arts & Culture.
The poster’s inspiration came from a competition held in November 1918 between stevedores at nine ports to see which of the ports performed best in their job duties. These port performances were recorded in a graph each week illustrating how much progress each was making in the “race to Berlin,” and copies of the results were posted at the various ports. “Berlin or Bust” was the competition’s confident slogan.
Why Keep That? is on view in the Ellis Gallery on the Research Center Level of the Museum and Memorial. Admission to Ellis Gallery is free.