“Lest We Forget” – The Marketing Icon That Helped Turn The Tide of WW2


To accurately assess where you are going, you must know from whence you came. To that end the folks at Transition Marketing always take an interest in the great successes and the morose failures within the marketing & advertising worlds sordid past.

One of the greatest marketing and advertising successes of the last century is “Rosie the Riveter”, who emerged from a war-torn world to inspire the everyday civilian to action. This campaign was in fact so successful, that the same style of image that gave birth to “Rosie” exists within pop culture today.

The Marketing Icon That Inspired A Nation.

You recognize her don’t you? Ok, perhaps not her specifically, but certainly the “style” in which she is displayed. That “vintage” look that modern pop culture so reveres, was not so vintage during the tumultuous days of WWII and in the 1940’s “Rosie the Riveter” presented a very modern “Call to Action”.

In respect for this Sunday, November 11, Armistice Day (Remembrance Day), we felt it was only right to delve into one of the greatest marketing campaigns ever, one that not only marked a change in the momentum of the second great world war, but also a change in modern society.

Rosie The Riveter.

Rosie, the campaigns “poster child” was the brain child of J. Howard Miller, a graphic design artist with Westinghouse. Miller created the well-known 1942 poster of a woman in a work shirt and bandana flexing her bicep underneath the bold lettered words “WE CAN DO IT!”, to provide a call to action for the war manufacturing industry.

Miller left her nameless, and nameless she would stay until the following year when she inspired the Redd Evans / John Jacob Loeb song “Rosie the Riveter”. The name stuck and a national icon was born.

“Rosie the Riveter.

Keeps a sharp look out for sabotage.

Sitting up there on the fuselage…

…Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie.

Charlie, he’s a Marine.

Rosie is protection Charlie,

Working overtime on the riveting machine”

Rosie’s appearance was in fact fortuitous and timely and she gave birth to an entirely new chapter in North American history.

The Background.

The 1930’s had seen the United States struggle through the suffocating Great Depression. Joblessness was up to 18%, wages, production capacity and production output had all dropped miserably and attitudes towards women in the workplace where still rooted in tradition. The general zeitgeist of the day was that women belonged in the home not on the factory floor.

A 1936 Gallup poll indicated that 82% of respondents, which included 75% of women, felt that married women should not work if their husbands were employed.

This all changed quite quickly when the United States entered the war. 16 million men entered military service to combat the conjoined threats of the Third Reich and the “Emperor’s Army”. Almost overnight production facilities entered overdrive for war production, running triple shifts to supply the “boys overseas” with the means to combat tyranny.

The problem: How do you run triple shifts with the loss of 16 million eligible workers?

Enter Rosie the Riveter. The immediate advertising campaign blitz saw 2 million women sign up at plants throughout the United States.

The “WE CAN DO IT” campaign marked not just the impending fall of the Third Reich, but, not coincidentally, the entry of 11,970,000 women into the workplace.  This number ballooned to 18,610,000 by 1945, as more and more women entered the war effort, supplying military personnel with everything from tanks and artillery shells, to medical bags and K-rations.

By the end of 1945, 25% of married women had entered the workplace and by the war’s end, 36% of the civilian work force was female.

The Impact of Rosie & Co.

Rosie the Riveter inspired a nation, she would later be portrayed in a movie for war bonds and depicted by leading commercial artist Norman Rockwell as a burly female worker leaning back towards the American flag, feet propped up on a copy of Mein Kampf.

Rosie’s first and original incarnation was based on a real-life Michigan factory worker, Geraldine Doyle and although she would take on a slightly different face for future representations, she maintained a consistent image and representation throughout the duration of WWII: Rosie the Riveter was representation of a fighting spirit, one that would not allow tyranny, one that sought victory at all costs. Rosier the Riveter embodied the very same spirit that won the war.

We remember the veterans from around the world, the sacrifice made and the unity of the people who made our freedom possible. 

Here is a look at some of the best posters and calls to action from WWII.

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Transition Marketing Services. Our passion is educating and equipping small business owners with the tools and strategies to succeed. We have made it our priority to know Specialized Marketing. We keep up to date on what is new, what is available and what makes the most sense for businesses of all sizes and backgrounds. We recognize that every Small Business is unique, and their Marketing needs to be as well. Visit us at our website and let us know how were doing or if you have any questions. TRANSITION MARKETING SERVICES – Small Business Marketing Specialists.


  1. The truth is, no matter how ubiquitous her image, US women could still learn a lot from Rosie. As Lynn Shaw, founder of Rosie the Riveter High School, told the LA Times: “Women in nontraditional jobs earn 20% to 40% more than women in what are considered ‘traditional’ women’s jobs. That’s $1m over a lifetime” (if you’re interested in learning more about nontraditional jobs for women, check out Tradeswomen Now and Tomorrow and Nontraditional Employment for Women ). And we still have a long way to go when it comes to workplace equality!

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