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Riveting team working on the cockpit shell of a C-47 cargo plane at the plant of North American Aviation. OWI photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1942.

The United States Office of War Information (OWI) was a U.S. government agency created during World War II to consolidate government information services. It operated from June 1942 until September 1945. It coordinated the release of war news for domestic use, and, using posters and radio broadcasts, worked to promote patriotism, warned about foreign spies and attempted to recruit women into war work. The office also established an overseas branch which launched a large scale information and propaganda campaign abroad.



The OWI was established by Executive Order 9182 on June 13, 1942, to consolidate the functions of the Office of Facts and Figures, OWI's direct predecessor; the Office of Government Reports, and the division of information of the Office for Emergency Management. The Foreign Intelligence Service, Outpost, Publication, and Pictorial Branches of the Office of the Coordinator of Information were also transferred to the OWI. (The Executive order creating OWI, however, stated that dissemination of information to the Latin American countries should be continued by the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs.) Elmer Davis, who was a CBS newsman, was named director of OWI.

Among its wide-ranging responsibilities, OWI sought to review and approve the design and content of government posters. OWI officials felt that the most urgent problem on the home front was the careless leaking of sensitive information that could be picked up by spies and saboteurs.

M-4 tank crew. OWI photo, 1942.

OWI directly produced radio series such as This is Our Enemy (spring 1942), which dealt with Germany, Japan, and Italy; Uncle Sam, which dealt with domestic themes; and Hasten the Day (August 1943), which was about the Home Front. In addition, OWI cleared commercial network scripts through its Domestic Radio Bureau, including the NBC Blue Network's Chaplain Jim. In addition, radio producer Norman Corwin produced several series for OWI, including An American in England, An American in Russia, and Passport for Adams, which starred actor Robert Young.

In addition, the OWI produced a series of 267 newsreels in 16 mm film, The United Newsreel which were shown overseas and to U.S. audiences. These newsreels incorporated U.S. military footage. Examples can be seen at this Google list.

OWI also established the Voice of America in 1942, which remains in service today as the official government broadcasting service of the United States. The VOA's initial transmitters were loaned from the commercial networks, and among the programs OWI produced were those provided by the Labor Short Wave Bureau, whose material came from the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Servicing a Douglas A-20 Havoc bomber. OWI photo, 1942.

During 1942 and 1943, the OWI contained two photographic units whose photographers documented the country's mobilization during the early years of the war, concentrating on such topics as aircraft factories and women in the workforce.

The Foreign Moral Analysis division of Pacific affairs, under the leadership of George E. Taylor commissioned a series of studies designed to help policymakers' understanding of enemy psychology. Among these studies were The Chrysanthemum and the Sword by Ruth Benedict and John Embree’s The Japanese Nation: A Social Survey (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1945).[1]


Among the many people who worked for the OWI were Humphrey Cobb, Owen Lattimore, Edgar Ansel Mowrer, Milton S. Eisenhower, Howard Fast, George E. Taylor, John Fairbank, Alan Cranston, Jane Jacobs, Alexander Hammid, Lewis Wade Jones, David Karr, Murray Leinster, Archibald MacLeish, Charles Olson, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., William Stephenson, James Reston, Waldo Salt, Philip Keeney, Irving Lerner, Peter Rhodes, Christina Krotkova, Gordon Parks, Lee Falk, Ernestine Evans, Jay Bennett (author) and Flora Wovschin.

Aviation Ordnanceman stationed at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi installing a M1919 Browning machine gun. OWI photo by Howard R. Hollem, 1942.

Many of these people were active supporters of President Roosevelt's New Deal and extolled the President's policies in producing radio programs such as This is War, which irritated Congressional opponents of such programs. In addition, many of the writers, producers, and actors of OWI programs admired the Soviet Union and were either loosely affiliated with or were members of the Communist Party USA. The director of Pacific operations for the OWI, Owen Lattimore, who later accompanied U.S. Vice-President Henry Wallace on a mission to China and Mongolia in 1944, was later alleged to be a Soviet agent on the basis of testimony by a defector from the Soviet GRU, General Alexander Barmine.[2][3][4] In his final report, Elmer Davis noted that he had fired 35 employees, because of past Communist associations, though the FBI files showed no formal allegiance to the CPUSA.

Soviet Spy

Flora Wovschin was later revealed to have been a Soviet spy. At Columbia University, where the list of communist spies included her mother and stepfather, she met Marion Davis Berdecio and Judith Coplon, both of whom Wovschin recruited into service for the Soviet NKVD spy agency. After World War II, she renounced her U.S. citizenship and lived in the Soviet Union.

Opposition and Termination

Congressional opposition to the domestic operations of the OWI resulted in increasingly curtailed funds. In 1943, the OWI's appropriations were cut out of the fiscal year 1944 budget and only restored with strict restrictions on what OWI could do domestically. Many branch offices were closed and the Motion Picture Bureau was closed down. By 1944 the OWI operated mostly in the foreign field, contributing to undermining enemy morale. The agency was abolished in 1945, and its foreign functions were transferred to the Department of State.

The OWI was terminated, effective September 15, 1945, by an executive order of August 31, 1945.


  1. ^ John King Fairbank, Chinabound: A Fifty-Year Memoir (New York: Harper & Row, 1982): 290.
  2. ^ FBI Report, "Owen Lattimore, Internal Security - R, Espionage - R," September 8, 1949 (FBI File: Owen Lattimore, Part 1A), p. 2 (PDF p. 7): Six years prior to the Barmine revelations in his 1948 interview, the FBI had already compiled a thick security dossier on Lattimore at the onset of World War II, recommending that he be put under "Custodial Detention in case of National Emergency."
  3. ^ Absent-Minded Professor?, Time Magazine, Monday, Mar. 10, 1952
  4. ^ Testimony of Alexander Barmine, July 31, 1951, U. S. Congress, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Internal Security Subcommittee, Institute of Pacific Relations, Hearings, 82nd Congress, First Session (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1951), Part 1, pp. 199-200


  • Allan Winkler, The Politics of Propaganda: The Office of War Information, 1942-1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978)
  • Howard Blue, Words at War: World War II Radio Drama and the Postwar Broadcast Industry Blacklist (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2002). ISBN 0-8108-4413-3.

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