Wars are expensive, and governments have always borrowed money to fight them. But it wasn't until the 20th century — the age of advertising — that governments started using war as a marketing tool to encourage citizens to buy government bonds.
To raise money for World War I, the U.S. government issued "Liberty Bonds," and launched an ad campaign full of dramatic, frightening posters.
For World War II, the government ditched the "liberty" euphemism and got straight to the point. It issued "war bonds," which were accompanied by a massive promotional campaign.
Industrial designer Thomas Lamb created "Adolph the Pig," a Hitler-themed piggy bank that squealed each time you inserted a coin. The idea was to fill up the bank with coins, then use the money to buy war bonds.
Courtesy of the Museum of World War II, Boston. On display at the WWII & NYC exhibit, New-York Historical Society.
Thomas Lamb's "Adolph the Pig." The message scribbled on top reads "Save for Victory and Make Him Squeal."
The campaigns worked. More than 85 million Americans bought over $185.7 billion of bonds during World War II.
A war bond sales promotion in New York City, 1944.
Things changed a lot after 1945.
"We couldn't use war bonds after World War II," Kenneth Jackson, a historian at Columbia University, told me. "The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the first Persian Gulf War [...] they are not declared wars. It would have been too polarizing."
Still, after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, the U.S. did add the phrase "Patriot Bond" to certain paper bonds sold by the government. Here's the description from the Treasury department:
The Patriot Bond is identical in every way to the paper EE Bond except that any EE Bond purchased through financial institutions after December 10, 2001 has the words "Patriot Bond" printed on the top ...
Patriot Bonds offered Americans one more way to express their support for our nation's anti-terrorism efforts. Proceeds were deposited into a general fund that includes contributions to anti-terrorism efforts and spent according to law.