In July 1942, seven months after the stunning attack on Pearl Harbor, the newsstands of America presented an unusual sight. The latest issues of many magazines were a profusion of red, white, and blue. American flags appeared on the covers of almost 500 publications with the intensity of a fireworks display. From Vogue to Modern Industry, True Detective to Time, magazines major and minor displayed Old Glory as cover art in a star-spangled tribute to the United States' war effort.
This patriotic surprise for the reading public was intended to attract attention. More than that, this first (and, so far, only) cooperative "United We Stand" campaign among US magazine publishers was designed to inspire Americans to buy government war bonds.
The National Publishers Association initially proposed that all magazines print the same picture of the flag. But this being a nation of rugged individualists, that idea was rejected in favor of featuring the flag in any imaginative way that editors saw fit.
About 100 of the resulting flag covers are on display at The National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., for the first time since their initial publication. They are on view until Oct. 27.
The American flag demonstrates its aesthetic strength on the magazine covers, apart from its patriotic associations. At the time, House & Garden was judged the best overall: The flag is draped vertically, and then pulled back like a curtain to reveal a picture of Mt. Vernon, home of George Washington. Other contributions were more idiosyncratic, like the Poultry Tribune design in which a small unit of marching eggs obediently follows a flag bearer.
The "United We Stand" campaign achieved its purpose: a show of unity and support by American magazine publishers and the sale of many war bonds.