What does “Save Your Cans” mean?

When I saw this 1940 poster drawn by McClelland Barclay in support of the war effort, my first thought was “Why did they want people to save toilets? Were they re-used in barracks?”

The cans rolling out of a machine gun like spent shell casings, while probably not an accurate portrayal of how the cans were used, pretty much dimisses the toilet idea.

I’m a fan of old posters, partly due to their art work and partly due to their protrayal of the culture of another era.

According to The Price of Freedom: Americans at War website, “Posters during World War II were designed to instill in the people a positive outlook, a sense of patriotism and confidence. They linked the war in trenches with the war at home. From a practical point, they were used to encourage all Americans to help with the war effort. The posters called upon every man, woman, and child to endure the personal sacrifice and domestic adjustments to further the national agenda. They encouraged rationing, conservation and sacrifice.”

These posters, available on Amazon, show that we were a very different nation in the days following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor:

If I were a history teacher, I would show these in class, not as propaganda, but as a window into the past that would–I would think–help start some great discussions.


At Sea by [Malcolm R. Campbell]I had the look and feel of such posters in mind when I created the cover art for my Vietnam War novel “At Sea.” I took the cover photograph with a 35mm camera while stationed on the USS Ranger (CVA-61) inthe Gulf of Tonkin. I wanted to show a typical flightdeck scene.


2 thoughts on “What does “Save Your Cans” mean?

  1. Wow, those posters ARE a great glimpse into the past indeed. And it’s so interesting that citizens’ cans could be made into ammo for the war (if I’m understanding it correctly). Anyway, thanks for this post!

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