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World War I in Pictures: An Overview of Prints & Photographs Division Collections

Prints and Photographs Division

Return of Washington, D.C. soldiers

Return of Washington, D.C., soldiers. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1919.


The Library of Congress Prints & Photograph Division (P&P) has more than 76,000 pictures relating to World War I, in a wide array of formats, including photographic prints and negatives, cartoons, ephemera, posters and drawings. Most of the material was created during the war (1914-1918), but a portion deals with post-war topics such as injured veterans, pension distribution, and the aftermath in European cities. The Library of Congress acquired the materials through copyright deposit, gift, and purchase. In some cases, other Library of Congress units, particularly the Manuscript Division, transferred visual material to P&P for care and service.

Collection Strengths

American involvement in the war is well represented.  In addition, the collection has many items, primarily of German origin, expressing the point of view of the Central Powers.  Many of these items came to the Library of Congress with the Third Reich Collection [view a summary of the Third Reich collection]. The German materials include photos of soldiers on the front lines and in non-combat roles, as well as examples of German ephemera such as stamps, postcards, and sheet music.

Aviation is a particular strength of the photo documentation. Many of the materials came to P&P from the former Library of Congress Division of Aeronautics. The photographs show airplanes from nearly every country involved and some examples of dirigibles. Some photographs show aircraft construction, including women working in aircraft factories.

Many of the materials exist in groups (LOTs) based on subject, provenance, or format. The sample groups below give a flavor for the types of materials represented in the LOTs.

The collections also include:

  • News photographs cover homefront activities, military training, prominent participants, scenes before and after battles, and ships.  In many cases, caption and date information is limited. Negatives from the following collections have been digitized:
  • Panoramic photographs show groups of soldiers and sites of battle, as well as army bases, some of which went out of existence after the war.
  • Stereograph cards designed to be viewed in 3-D show combat, POWs, training, damage, casualties, and medical staff. Some of the photographs, particularly battle scenes, appear to be staged.
  • Visual materials from the papers of  prominent American military officials, including Gen. John J. Pershing, Woodrow Wilson, Josephus Daniels, and William “Billy” Mitchell.
  • World War I Posters from the U.S., France, Great Britain, Germany and other countries are well represented in the poster collections; more than 1,900 are available online. 
  • Cartoons are especially prevalent, both in the form of original drawings (primarily in Cartoon Drawings and Swann Collection) and newspaper clippings. Political cartoons were used by both sides to shore up support for their cause while mocking their enemies. Artists such as Clifford Berryman, Rollin Kirby, and Oscar Cesare are well represented in the cartoon drawings. The newspaper clippings cover both Pro-Allies and Pro-Central Power positions and originate mainly from the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany.
  • Prints that depict the war and reactions to it are present in the Fine Print and Popular Graphic Arts collections, especially by artists such as Joseph Pennell and Lucien Jonas.  In addition, the Willard Straight Collection consists of more than 5,000 prints and other graphic items relating to the war. Straight collected the materials while living in France and many reflect European points of view and art styles. (This material is available by advance appointment.)
  • Drawings in the Cabinet of American Illustration, including works by W. A Rogers, Oliver Herford, Wladyslaw T. Benda, John T. McCutcheon, and George Hand Wright. Also, works by Joseph Pennell in the Master Drawings.

Searching the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Most of the holdings are represented as items or groups in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.  Search terms to try include:

  • World War, 1914-1918 (this is the standard heading for the war; a list of subdivisions that are used with names of wars is available at: Sometimes the abbreviation WWI occurs in the text of the descriptions. Also types of warfare employed, e.g. Trench warfare
  • Place names associated with key events, e.g., Argonne, Brest, Flander's Field. (Combining a place name with a date for the decade or years in which the war occurred can narrow results, although somewhat imprecisely: e.g., Belgium 1910)
  • Terms for participants, e.g., American Expeditionary Forces, soldiers, nurses, Red Cross, refugees. (Combining a term with a date for the decade or years in which the war occurred can narrow results, although somewhat imprecisely: e.g., United States. Army 1910)
  • Terms for weapons and transportation used in the war combined with the decade or years in which the war occurred, e.g., biplanes, kites (military). (Combining a term with a date for the decade or years in which the war occurred can narrow results, although somewhat imprecisely: e.g., artillery 1910)

Sample Groups

The groups listed below give a flavor for the variety of formats and subject matter represented in the Prints & Photographs Division's World War I holdings. Selecting the link to the online description will provide further details about the quantity, formats, and subject matter included in the groups, as well as any access advisories.

LOT 3638

A mix of items from Germany, including photos, prints, and original drawings. Includes a photo of the first Americans captured by Germany as well as other prisoners of war. [View online description]
Crowd of German civilians surrounding a cannon
Crowd of German civilians surrounding a cannon. Photo, between 1914 and 1918

Lot 3664

Postcards with photos and illustrations of battle grounds, soldiers, graveyards, and sentimental scenes. Most postcards are from France or Belgium. [View online description]


Lot 3666

Illustrated postcards with sentimental, romantic, humorous, and realistic subjects, many with patriotic or propaganda messages. Divided into two groups: German postcards and French, Portuguese, Russian, etc. postcards. [View online description]

Zeichnet die Kriegsanleihe!
Zeichnet die Kriegsanleihe! Postcard by Willy Stöwer, 1918

LOT 3690

German postcard album that includes portraits of officers & soldiers, ceremonies, and daily life. [View online description]

Visit of the Crown Prince Wilhelm near Courlandon on the Vesle River, France
Visit of the Crown Prince Wilhelm near Courlandon on the Vesle River, France. Photo, 1918 June 29.

LOT 10282

Gravure photomechanical prints from France showing scenes from the entire course of the war. [View online description]

Wounded soldier being carried back to second lines, Oise
Wounded soldier being carried back to second lines, Oise. Photomechanical print, 1917.

LOT 7882

Official British photos showing British troops carrying out duties on the Western Front and in the Middle East. [View online description]

New Zealanders examining a captured anti-tank gun
New Zealanders examining a captured anti-tank gun. Photo, between 1914 and 1918.

LOT 4639

Pictorial propaganda material, chiefly clippings from World War I. Includes illustrations, cartoons, caricatures, artwork, stamps, etc. [View online description]
Die Gefluchteten
Die Gefluchteten. Lithograph by Bruno Bielefeldt, 1915.

LOT 3276

Twelve albums from a German Army unit in France, documenting their daily lives, local people, towns, war damage, graves, Christmas activities, etc. [View online description]

Rus. Maschinengewehr in der Leilingschlucht, Beaumont
Rus. Maschinengewehr in der Leilingschlucht, Beaumont. Photo, between 1914 and 1918.

LOT 10969 and LOT 10970

News photographs of women's war work, 1917-1918, mostly in the New York City area. Includes photos of subway workers, telegraph operators, mechanics as well as women training for war jobs as motorists and the ambulance corps. [View online description]
Women subway workers, N.Y.C.
Women subway workers, N.Y.C. Photo by Bain News Service, 1917.

LOT 11527

More than 1,300 stereographs documenting all facets of the war, primarily from the Allied point of view. Includes good photos of French and British colonial soldiers. [View online description]

Famous French Renault tanks going through Vaux
Famous French Renault tanks going through Vaux. Stereograph by W.E. Troutman, Inc., copyrighted 1924.

LOT 6411

Photos of France showing other allied combatants. Includes hospitals, soldiers in the front, civilians, war damage, recreation, aviation, etc. [View online description]

American Red Cross ambulances lined up along road in France
American Red Cross ambulances lined up along road in France. Photo, between 1914 and 1918.

LOT 3563

Cartoons clipped from U.S. and non-U.S. newspapers over the course of the World War I era. From Rehse Archiv f. Zeitgeschichte u. Publizistik, München. Cartoons are subdivided by year then subject matter, consult finding aid in the reading room for subject headings. [View online description]

Without warning!
Without warning! Reproduction of drawing by J.H. Cassel in Evening World Daily Magazine, 1917 Feb. 28.

LOT 4268 and LOT 4269

Scrapbooks of newspaper ads, black-and-white posters and other items advertising the Fourth Liberty Loan. LOT 4268 has newspaper ads from Chicago. LOT 4269 has material from St. Louis. [View online descriptions]

Patriots of St. Louis...Liberty Loan Bonds
Patriots of St. Louis...Liberty Loan Bonds. Poster, 1917.

Related Resources

Library of Congress

Resources relating to World War I exist in many units of the Library of Congress, including the papers of government officials and military personnel held by the Manuscript Division. These resource guides and digital offerings highlight major holdings:

Library of Congress Web Guide: A Guide to World War I Materials

Experiencing War: World War I: The Great War, Stories from the Veterans History Project

World War I: An Annotated Bibliography of Books in the Main Reading Room Reference Collection and World War I Military Newspapers in the General and Microform Collections

National Archives

World War I Records (overview)

Select Bibliography

This selection from the vast literature on World War I focuses on books that emphasize visual materials.

Brown, Malcolm. The Imperial War Museum Book of the First World War. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993. LC Call Number: D542.I47 I45 1993 [view catalog record]

Includes photos, art, posters, and ephemera from the collections of Great Britain's Imperial War Museum.

Haulsee, W.M., F.G. Howe and A.C. Doyle, comp. Soldiers of the Great War. Washington, D.C., Soldiers Record Publishing Association, 1920. LC Call Number: D609.U6 S6 [view catalog record]

Includes small portraits of many US soldiers who were killed.

Haythornthwaite, Philip J. The World War One Source Book. London: Arms and Armour, 1992. LC Call number: D521 .H36 1992 [view catalog record]

A reference source broken down into battles, countries involved, biographies of notable persons, and miscellany, all illustrated. It also includes a good bibliography and glossary.

Rickards, Maurice and Michael Moody. The First World War: Ephemera, Mementoes, Documents. London : Jupiter Books, 1975. LC Call Number: D503 .F57 [view catalog record]

Contains images of various types of ephemera from all the major participants.

Stallings, Laurence. The First World War: A Photographic History. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1933. LC Call Number: D527 .S73 [view catalog record]

Large full page or half page photos showing all aspects of the war from both the Allied and Central Powers point of view.

The War of the Nations: Portfolio in Rotogravure Etchings Compiled from the Mid-week Pictorial. New York : New York Times, Co., 1919. [Available online as part of Newspaper Pictorials: World War I Rotogravures]

Large rotogravure images of photos and illustrations published in the New York Times' Mid-week Pictorial. Includes portraits of politicians and military figures, battle photos and maps. Most photos are from the Allied point of view.

Wiest, Andrew A. The Illustrated History of World War I. Edison, N.J.: Chartwell Books, 2001.

Illustrated book that covers major topics of the war.

Willmott, H.P. World War I. London: Dorling Kindersley, 2009. LC Call Number: D522 .W55 2009 [view catalog record]

Heavily illustrated book by year then battle front. In addition to historic photos it has modern images of uniforms, weapons, and machinery. Also includes many battle maps, timelines and an index of battlefields and memorials around the world.

See also the bibliography that accompanies the Prints and Photographs Division's World War I posters online:

Compiled by Jonathan Eaker, Reference Technician, in April 2012. Last revised: April 20, 2012.
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