(Kansas City, Missouri) - When the U.S. finally shed its neutrality and entered World War I in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson turned to a former Kansas City newspaperman to sell the move to a wary nation.
George Creel - born 138 years ago this week in Lafayette County, Missouri - artfully employed modern public relations techniques in promoting the war effort at home and abroad and rallying popular support. Park University historian Timothy Westcott traces the life of the man who, in many ways, was America's first minister of propaganda in The KC Salesman Who Readied America for War on Sunday, December 7, 2014, at 2 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
The presentation is part of the Library's Missouri Valley Sundays series.
Creel began his career as a newspaper reporter for the Kansas City World in 1894 and started publishing his own newspaper, the Kansas City Independent, in 1899. He ultimately moved to the Rocky Mountain News as editor, establishing a reputation as a dedicated investigator.
In 1917, he was appointed by Wilson as head of the U.S. Committee on Public Information, the government's propaganda and publicity agency. After proclaiming during his reelection campaign a year earlier that "he kept us out of war," the president abruptly had to switch gears as the country formally entered World War I. It was left to Creel to switch the message.
Combining the new techniques of public relations and propaganda with extensive government censorship, he shaped public opinion and controlled the flow of war information. Among his tactics was the recruitment of 75,000 volunteers - "Four Minute Men" - who spoke for four minutes at a time in public locations around the country in favor of the war effort.
It created a template for an entire industry of Madison Avenue "Mad Men."
Creel penned a memoir, How We Advertised America, after the war and went on to publish over a dozen more works. He ran for California's Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1934, losing to novelist Upton Sinclair.
Westcott is an associate professor of history at Park University. His research interests have focused on the "Bleeding Kansas" era, the Civil War and World War I.
The Missouri Valley Sundays series, a program of the Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Central Library, is made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Admission to his presentation is free. RSVP at kclibrary.org or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available in the Library District parking garage at 10th & Baltimore.