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We Can Do It! Poster by J Howard Miller

Updated on August 20, 2015
Judi Bee profile image

Judith has a long standing interest in World War 1 and has spent many hours researching the lives of the men of her town who fell in WW1.

She's Not Rosie!

J Howard Miller's iconic poster is often confused with Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter.
J Howard Miller's iconic poster is often confused with Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter. | Source

Rosie the Riveter Lyrics

All the day long,

Whether rain or shine

She's part of the assembly line.

She's making history,

Working for victory

Rosie the Riveter.

We Can Do It! Not Rosie the Riveter!

J Howard Miller's striking image of a young woman in a polka dot headscarf is one of the best-known American World War 2 posters. Oddly, few Americans in World War 2 ever saw the poster although they would have been familiar with Rosie the Riveter. Rosie was the subject of a popular song of 1942 and Norman Rockwell immortalised the character in a cover for the Saturday Evening Post on Memorial Day in 1943.

So, who was Rosie the Riveter, who actually modelled for J Howard Miller's poster and why have the two become confused?

Rosie the Riveter Song

In 1942 Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb wrote a song about the many women working for the war effort on assembly lines throughout the USA. The song was hugely popular.

The inspiration for Evans and Loeb's song was apparently a woman named Rosalind P Walter. Rosalind was the daughter of wealthy parents, but pitched in to the war effort by helping to build F4U Corsair fighter planes. After the war she was involved with the WNET public television channel in New York and worked for charitable causes.


Another J Howard Milller WW2 Poster

This J Howard Miller poster is from the same series as the We Can Do It! poster.
This J Howard Miller poster is from the same series as the We Can Do It! poster. | Source

J Howard Miller's Westinghouse Posters

J Howard Miller was hired by the Westinghouse Electric Company in 1942 to produce a series of posters aimed at its own workers. The posters were not part of a recruitment drive, rather a reminder to employees to work harder.

Westinghouse had less than 2,000 copies of the poster printed and circulated them in a few of its factories in Pittsburgh and the Midwest. The largely female work force in these factories were employed to produce helmet liners, not riveters at all. On Monday, 15 February 1943 the posters were put up and stayed up for two weeks. After their display they were taken down, archived and forgotten.

Although Miller produced a series of posters for Westinghouse, only the We Can Do It! poster has gained popularity.

Geraldine Hoff-Doyle

Geraldine Hoff was 17 years old when she was snapped at her metal-pressing machine by a United Press International photographer. Her career in metal-pressing was brief; a talented cellist she feared a hand injury and only stayed in the job briefly. Soon afterwards she married Leo Doyle, a dentist.

Geraldine was quite unaware that Miller might have used her for his poster until she read an article in a magazine in the 1980s; like many people, she had not seen the poster before.

Geraldine died in 2010.

Who Was the Model for the We Can Do It Poster?

Miller never confirmed where he got his idea for his poster, but it is generally thought that he based it on a photograph of a young woman named Geraldine Hoff.

In 1942 Geraldine had a temporary job in a factory and was photographed operating a metal-stamping machine. The image is nothing like Miller's finished poster. Geraldine is shown in black and white, although it is clear that she is wearing a polka dot bandana. Her pose is quite different from Miller's poster girl; she is in profile, facing left with sleeves fully rolled down and bent over her machine.

Although many people credit Geraldine as Miller's poster girl, some of those who knew him doubt that he used her image for his inspiration. Miller's friend and Westinghouse historian, Charles A Ruch, is on record as saying that Miller rarely worked from photographs, preferring live models.

We Can Do It! Poster After WW2

After its short circulation period, the poster was taken down and not seen again for 40 years. In the 1980s it appeared in a magazine article about propaganda posters. Unlike Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter poster, Miller's poster was not copyrighted and over the next decade it was appropriated for a variety of uses from promoting feminism to souvenir mugs.

A variety of politicians have used the poster in their campaigns, including Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and Ron Paul. Julia Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister, and Michelle Obama have had their images morphed into the poster. Several advertisers have used the image to promote their products.

Rosie Memorial, Richmond, California

Remembering the women of the home front in World War 2.
Remembering the women of the home front in World War 2. | Source

Rosie the Riveter Historical Park and Memorial

Established in 2000, the Rosie the Riveter and World War II Home Front National Historical Park is located in Richmond, California.

The park is the first to honour America's women who worked on the home front. The catalyst for the park's creation was the erection of a sculpture to remember all the "Rosies" who worked in the area's shipyards during the War.

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    6 years ago from UK

    Hi Liz-reviews - yes, she is a powerful looking woman, whoever she is!

    Thanks very much for your comments, much appreciated.

  • Liz-reviews profile image

    Eunice Elizabeth 

    6 years ago from Vancouver, BC

    Hi Judi

    Love that poster!!!! It's amazing how 1 image can conjure up such a feeling of strength and power. Great job on the info behind it.

  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    6 years ago from UK

    Hi Bill - I feel I should do a hub about the riveting ladies! I love the poster, it's very positive and affirming.

    Thanks for your comments, always great to hear from you.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    6 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Very interesting history lesson, Judi! I have always been interested in this poster, because my mother was a riveter in WWII in a shipyard in the States. What an incredible war effort by the women......anyway, great job!

  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    6 years ago from UK

    Hi afmolinajr - glad you enjoyed it!

    Hi Case1Worker - we seen to be getting TV shows about old adverts, so who knows!

    Thanks very much to both of you for your comments, I appreciate them.

  • CASE1WORKER profile image

    CASE1WORKER 

    6 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

    Nice hub! I wonder if people will be writing about current posters in 50 years time ( take them down and definitely save them to invest

  • afmolinajr profile image

    Alejandro Molina 

    6 years ago from Metro Manila, Philippines

    nice hub you got here! cheers!

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