In 1919, Congressman Cordell Hull of the House Ways and Means Committee estimated the Great War had cost the United States approximately $33 billion. Just over two-thirds of this enormous sum was raised through four Liberty Loan campaigns and a final Victory Loan campaign. The nation’s leaders had not originally intended to pay for the war with money loaned by the American public. In his “War Message to Congress,” President Wilson advocated heavy increases in the nation’s new graduated tax rather than paying for the war with borrowed money.


Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo questioned the political wisdom of significantly increasing citizens’ taxes and instead championed the idea of relying on the patriotic fervor of Americans to subscribe to government issued war bonds. On a nation-wide speaking tour promoting Liberty Loans, Secretary McAdoo explained that a “patriotic citizen moved by the spirit and determination of Liberty” came to his office and on a scrap of paper pledged $5,000,000 to “help secure that spirit and determination of Liberty to countries abroad.”[1] McAdoo suggested that with poster-driven advertising in conjunction with Liberty Loan and War Savings Stamp campaigns that emphasized the patriotic duty of each American to “do one’s bit to help Uncle Sam win the war,” significant funds would be willingly offered up by public. Beginning in May 1917 and lasting for two years, each of the four Liberty Loan campaigns ran for one month, asking subscribers to purchase bonds at interest rates between 3.5 and 4.5 percent. In return for their “war savings pledge,” purchasers received a Liberty Button to wear, signifying their patriotic contribution to defeat autocracy in Europe.


[1]William Gibbs McAdoo.  “The Liberty Loan Address.” Speech delivered at a meeting of businessmen and bankers of Iowa, Des Moines, IA. May 21, 1917.