Keep calm and learn the secret history of wartime slogans

Keep calm and carry on

It’s hard to believe that a wartime slogan from 1939, which was never seen by the public, has been popularised 75 years later and is being used to sell everything from mugs to flight bags and baby clothes. ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ was one of three key messages created by Britain’s wartime propaganda department, the Ministry of Information, made famous as the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s novel, 1984.

Keep Calm and Carry On

The now-ubiquitous ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ phrase was chosen for its message of ‘sober restraint’. 2.45 million posters displaying it were printed, only to be pulped and recycled in 1940 to help the British government deal with a serious paper shortage.

‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ was coined by the shadow Ministry of Information at some point between 27 June and 6 July 1939. It one of a series of three posters that would be issued in the event of war (the others read ‘Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution; Will Bring Us Victory’ and ‘Freedom is in Peril; Defend it with all Your Might’). The ‘Keep Calm’ design was never officially issued and only a very small number of originals have survived to the present day.

Rediscovery

It wasn’t until a copy was discovered in a bookshop in Northumberland in 2000, and reproductions of it began to be sold a year later, that its fame was established.

Keep calm and carry on poster

Keep calm and carry on poster

A detailed blog post, entitled ‘Keep Calm and Carry On – the compromise behind the slogan’, was written to mark the 75th anniversary of the slogan.