United States Office of War Information

Office of War Information
OWI
Riveting team2.jpg
Riveting team working on the cockpit shell of a C-47 cargo plane at the plant of North American Aviation
Agency overview
FormedJune 13, 1942 (1942-06-13)
Preceding agencies
DissolvedSeptember 15, 1945 (1945-09-15)
Superseding agencies
JurisdictionUnited States Government
HeadquartersWashington, D.C., United States
Parent agencyOffice for Emergency Management
Child agencies
  • Foreign Information Service
  • Bureau of Intelligence
  • Psychological Warfare Branch
  • Book and Magazine Bureau, Extensive Surveys Division, Bureau of Public Inquiries, Bureau of Motions Pictures, Propaganda Intelligence Section, etc.

The United States Office of War Information (OWI) was a United States government agency created during World War II. OWI operated from June 1942 until September 1945. Through radio broadcasts, newspapers, posters, photographs, films and other forms of media, the OWI was the connection between the battlefront and civilian communities. The office also established several overseas branches, which launched a large-scale information and propaganda campaign abroad.

Origins

President Franklin D. Roosevelt promulgated the OWI on June 13, 1942 by Executive Order 9182.[1] The Executive Order consolidated the functions of the Office of Facts and Figures (OFF, OWI's direct predecessor), the Office of Government Reports, and the Division of Information of the Office for Emergency Management. The Foreign Information Service, a division of the Office of the Coordinator of Information, became the core of the Overseas Branch of the OWI.

At the onset of World War II, the American public was in the dark regarding wartime information. One American observer noted: “It all seemed to boil down to three bitter complaints…first, that there was too much information; second, that there wasn’t enough of it; and third, that in any event it was confusing and inconsistent”.[2] Further, the American public confessed a lack of understanding as to why the world was at war, and held great resentment against other Allied Nations.[3] President Roosevelt established the OWI to both meet the demands for news and less confusion, as well as resolve American apathy towards the war.

The OWI's creation was not without controversy. The American public, and the United States Congress in particular, were wary of propaganda for several reasons. First, the press feared a centralized agency as the sole distributor of wartime information.[4] Second, Congress feared an American propaganda machine that could resemble Joseph Goebbels’ operation in Nazi Germany.[5] Third, previous attempts at propaganda under the Committee on Public Information/Creel Committee during WWI were viewed as a failure.[6] And fourth, America was experiencing endemic isolationism and was hesitant to become involved in a global propaganda campaign and subsequently a global war.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A small boat rescues a seaman from the 31,800 ton USS West Virginia burning in the foreground.

But in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the need for coordinated and properly disseminated wartime information from the military/administration to the public outweighed the fears associated with American propaganda. President Roosevelt entrusted the OWI to beloved journalist and CBS newsman Elmer Davis, with the mission to take “an active part in winning the war and in laying the foundations for a better postwar world”.[7]

Elmer Davis, Director of the Office of War Information, examines Nazi and Japanese propaganda organs.

President Roosevelt ordered Davis to “formulate and carry out, through the use of press, radio, motion picture, and other facilities, information programs designed to facilitate the development of an informed and intelligent understanding, at home and abroad, of the status and progress of the war effort and of the war policies, activities, and aims of the Government”.[8] The OWI's operations were thus divided between the Domestic and Overseas Branches.

M-4 tank crew. OWI photo, 1942.