Friday, May 23, 2008

War Bonds Radio

Corrected for inflation (to 2007 dollars) the cost of WWII was 3.2 trillion dollars. Compare this to the cost of the Iraq/Afghanistan War 698.5 billion dollars. We survived WWII and exited it with a booming economy. But Bush's boondoggle has made us go bust. Why? War bonds.

WWII was partly funded with war bonds. In 1941 on the cusp of the great depression there was no way the Roosevelt administration could have funded such a large war effort on it's own. So On May 1, 1941, the first Series E U.S. Savings Bond was sold. War bonds were sold through 1946,a total of $185.7 billion dollars. that's almost 2 trillion in 2007 dollars. More than 85 million Americans had invested in War Bonds, a number unmatched by any other country. This required a lot of marketing and at that time that meant print and radio.

The War Advertising Council was created. They designed a maelstrom of radio advertising. Listeners could not escape the message. It was more pervasive than the Geico gecko, Tony the Tiger, or the damn Taco Bell Chihuahua. The message wasn't just to buy war bonds. It was also to conserve everything. How to stretch out bar soap, food rationing, and our first large scale recycling efforts for aluminum and other metals. The tag line was Food Fights for Freedom - Produce, Conserve, Share, Play square. That last part was about discouraging black markets.

Singer Kate Smith used her radio program to tap into her 23 million listeners. She pulled in an average of 1 to 4 million per show in a series of Red Cross drives. Then CBS held War Bond day on September 21st 1943. In just one 18-hour marathon she topped all previous efforts making almost 40 million dollars worth of bonds. Other artists made the effort as well through radio Gene Autry, who wore cowboy boots with his uniform, brought his radio show to the Scottsbluff air base to entertain troops and sell bonds. Radio manufacturers like RCA, Sonora, and Argus pimped war bonds in their print ads. But more importantly radio networks donated time.

One of the most successful single events was a 16-hour marathon radio broadcast on CBS, during which nearly $40 million worth of bonds were sold. The marathon featured singer Kate Smith, famous for her rendition of "God Bless America." Patriotism and the spirit of sacrifice could be expressed with war bond purchases. Millions jumped aboard the war bond effort.

But it never stopped. After WWII was over and the allies started feuding over the rights to Nazi scientists we renamed them Victory Bonds, then eventually Defense Bonds. The War Advertising Council changed it's name to the Advertising Council.