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What Were Liberty Bonds in World War 1?

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.

Propaganda poster for the Liberty Bond campaign by animator and cartoonist Winsor McCay

Propaganda poster for the Liberty Bond campaign by animator and cartoonist Winsor McCay

What Was a "Liberty Bond"?

A "Liberty Bond" is a war bond issued in the USA during World War 1. The US Government named them "Liberty Bonds" in an attempt to appeal to people's patriotic duty: buying a bond was considered a way to help secure the country's liberty. But in fact, n fact, Liberty Bonds had only limited success, despite the massive publicity campaign.

The Purpose of War Bonds

Many countries issued war bonds. Their purpose was primarily to raise money to finance military operations but they also gave civilians the opportunity of contributing to the war effort. War bonds were also seen as a means of controlling inflation in an unstable economy; if people were saving their money with war bonds, they couldn't spend it and drive up prices. Conversely, once the war was over, war bonds could stimulate the economy as people cashed them in and spent them.

The interest offered on war bonds was traditionally lower than on other forms of investment. This was to reflect the low risk in investing with a government.

In order to attract all possible investors, including children, bonds were offered in a range of denominations to suit all pockets.

Liberty Bond Rally

Douglas Fairbanks Jnr addressing a rally for the third Liberty Bond issue

Douglas Fairbanks Jnr addressing a rally for the third Liberty Bond issue

Recently Issued Liberty Bonds

After the attacks on the US on 11 September 2001, Liberty Bonds were issued to help with the cost of rebuilding.

Liberty Bond Campaign

The first two issues of Liberty Bonds fell short of expectations. Although it was claimed that they sold out, it is probable that they did so because they were traded under their value. The solution to the problem, according to the Secretary of the Treasury, was a publicity campaign. The campaign was designed to appeal to people's patriotism and the Treasury swung the weight of Hollywood behind it.

Huge rallies were organized and hosted by the stars of the day. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Junior, and Al Jolsen were some of the film stars who publicized the idea of buying bonds to show patriotism. Charlie Chaplin even made a short film "The Bond" to support Liberty Bonds (see below).

In addition to the movie stars, the Liberty Bond campaign used posters designed by popular artists of the day. The poster at the top of this page was the work of Winsor McCay, a very successful animator and cartoonist who was well-known for his pioneering animation Gertie the Dinosaur.

The Bond

Charlie Chaplin and "The Bond"

Charlie Chaplin decided to support the war effort by making a short film, at his own expense, to persuade the public to join the war effort by purchasing bonds. His film, "The Bond" was released on 29 September 1918. Chaplin and his half-brother Sydney were among the players in a short series of sketches illustrating different sorts of bonds. A British version was also made to promote the UK's War Bonds.

Liberty Bond Issues

DateAmount Offered($ Billion)Interest Rate (%)

24 April 1917



1 October 1917



5 April 1918



28 September 1918



21 April 1919 (Victory Bond)



Buying Liberty Bonds was equated with patriotism in propaganda posters

Buying Liberty Bonds was equated with patriotism in propaganda posters

World War 1 Propaganda Posters

Find out more about the use of Propaganda Posters in World War 1. You can buy this poster at the Great War Emporium.

Found a Liberty Bond?

You never know, you might just find an old Bond at the back of a drawer or in a safe deposit box. What should you do with it? All Liberty Bonds issued in World War 1 have reached their maturation date, so you can take them to the bank. You would receive the face value plus interest instantly. Alternatively, you could check whether a collector would pay more than the redemption value; some issues are in demand.

The Results of the Liberty Bond Campaign

An astounding amount of effort went into the Liberty Bond campaign. As well as the rallies and posters there was a traveling airshow featuring elite pilots who performed aerial stunts for the crowds. A ride in one of the airplanes was the reward for those purchasing a bond. John Steinbeck recalled that his mother, Olive, was so affected by the death of one of their young neighbors that she declared her own war on Germany; her weapons were war bonds. She bought a great many and on one occasion earned herself a ride in a 'plane.

For the third Liberty Bond issue, there were approximately 9 million posters and 10 million button badges produced. Despite all the publicity, the appetite of the average American for Liberty Bonds was muted. It was institutions that bought the majority of the bonds.

In all, the US Government raised around $17 Billion for the war effort.


Judi Brown (author) from UK on January 13, 2013:

Hi dilipchandra12 - so glad you found this interesting and useful. Many thanks for reading and commenting, I appreciate it.

Dilip Chandra from India on January 12, 2013:

Interesting Hub, i have never come across this subject. Interesting and useful. Thanks for sharing. Voted UP...

Judi Brown (author) from UK on January 03, 2013:

Hi Graham - you've made me wonder what the final financial cost would have been. I've never looked into that, always been interested in the human cost. I shall have to look into it.

Many thanks for your comments, hope you're having a good New Year!

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on January 02, 2013:

Nice one Judi, interesting and informative. The money had to come from somewhere.


Judi Brown (author) from UK on December 30, 2012:

HI David - so true, it's all relative! I'd snap up a Liberty Bond anyway, just for the sentimental value.

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

David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 30, 2012:

Wow. I remember looking back in history and thinking what lousy interest rates they had. Of course, now, who wouldn't snap up Liberty Bonds with a 4% yield :) Nice hub, judibee.

Judi Brown (author) from UK on December 30, 2012:

Hi Susan - if I found one I would love to frame it and keep it (unless it was worth hundreds of thousands!). I haven't seen Storage Wars - I guess it hasn't reached us yet.

Thanks very much for your comments, appreciated as always.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on December 30, 2012:

I would love to find a liberty bond. I wonder if anyone has ever found one in those storage locker shows such as Storage Wars that have become quite popular.

Interesting hub.

Judi Brown (author) from UK on December 30, 2012:

Hi GoodLady - I was interested to find out the enormous effort that went into persuading (or not, as it turned out) the public into buying war bonds. I wonder how much it cost?

Thanks very much for your comments, always appreciated.

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on December 30, 2012:

Voted interesting. Again you supply us with fascinating historical information. I won't look through any old boxes for old bonds! I'm sure we'd have found secret treasures by now.