Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands: Vintage Handwashing Propaganda Posters Between The 1920s And 1940s
Dutch diligence: this poster from the Netherlands says, “Paper is good but hand washing is better.” Judgy sandwich etiquette, but good advice.
Handwashing can help prevent illness. It involves five simple and effective steps (Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry) you can take to reduce the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illness so you can stay healthy. Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it can keep us all from getting sick. Handwashing is a win for everyone, except the germs.
This Soviet poster reads “Dirty hands mean trouble. In order to not get sick, be cultured: before eating, wash your hands with soap!” Cleanliness is next to godlessness, comrade.
Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis was the first to tout the health benefits of the practice in the mid-19th century. Semmelweis was trying to solve the mystery of “childbed fever,” a fatal illness affecting women who’d just given birth. After a number of failed attempts to determine its cause, one of the doctor’s colleagues caught the fever and died. Semmelweis realized it was transmissible and introduced some of the first modern medical hygiene practices — mandatory hand washing and sterilization of medical instruments in a chlorine solution.
The Soviets really liked handwashing. This poster reminds those busy building the workers’ utopia that “Dirty hands are a source of infection. Wash your hands after work and before eating.”
The impact of handwashing can’t really be overstated. The Centers for Disease Control calls it a “do-it-yourself vaccination.” Since it’s has been proven to drastically reduce the rate of transmission of infection, public health campaigns encouraging clean hands have been rolled out all around the world.
Happy heteronormative holiday time requires hygiene! And hot dogs. At least according to this British public health poster.
Hand washing even became part of a moral directive to serve one’s nation by practicing good hygiene. From Soviet Constructivist warnings of the 1920s to the conflation of clean hands with good citizenship in America, here are some posters from the past that exhort the dirty masses to lather up.
This poster from the US reminds us that good citizens keep clean, and only take their fair allotment of paper towel!
“Wash your hands before touching your eyes”, between 1941 and 1945.
“Wash your hands often”, between 1941 and 1945. A handwashing sign from the National Archives. Times haven’t changed much.
“And paper option is good / Washing hands is better”, Nethelands, 1945. Poster by Renes / Jan Rot Wash.