Four Minute Men
The Four Minute Men were a group of volunteers authorized by the US President Woodrow Wilson, to give four-minute speeches on topics given to them by The Committee on Public Information. The topics dealt with the American war effort in the First World War and were presented during the four minutes between reels changing in movie theaters across the country.
In the year of 1917 the war in Europe had been raging for three years and America's involvement had not begun. Woodrow Wilson had just been re-elected president under the slogan "He Kept Us Out of War". The British had been calling for the United States involvement and eventually helped convince Wilson, with the help of events such as the Zimmermann Telegram and the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. Eventually on April, 6th 1917 the US Congress declared war on Germany.
With a large number of German Americans in the United States, and many others with strong isolationist feelings, there was a strong need for a propaganda campaign to stir support for the war. This effort had many unique challenges to meet to address the existing political climate. Wilson needed to speak directly to the fragmented and spread out audience in the United States. He had to address the country's self-perception to generate support for the war. The Four-Minute Men provided an answer to these challenges.
The Four Minute Men idea became a useful tool in the propaganda campaign because it addressed a specific rhetorical situation. One of the challenges of the effort was the fragmented audience of the United States. Many different heritages were represented in the United States, and the president needed their support for the war. To address each groups specific needs, the director of the Four Minute Men, William McCormick Blair, delegated the duty of speaking to local men. Well known and respected community figures often volunteered for the Four Minute Men program. This gave the speeches a local voice. Also, the four minute men were given general topics and talking points to follow and rotated between theaters to help the speeches seem fresh, instead of generic propaganda speeches.
The four minute men was a division of the Committee on Public Information, headed by George Creel. The Committee on Public Information appointed William McCormick Blair as director of the Four Minute Men. Blair appointed state chairmen of the Four Minute Men, who then would appoint a city or community chairman. Each of these appointments needed to be approved in Washington. The local chairman would then appoint a number of speakers to cover the theaters in the city or community for which he is responsible for.
The Four Minute Men provided Americans with valuable information, and served as a connection between the government and citizens. More than 75,000 citizens volunteered and served in the Four Minute Men. Over 11,000,000 people heard Four Minute Man speeches in the eighteen month program.
Because the American government created a positive propaganda source, United States citizens were informed about the war. The Four Minute Men contributed to public morale, and focused attention on the principles at stake in the war.
Notable Four Minute Men
- Lambert Estes Gwinn, Four Minute Man from Covington, Tennessee
- Benjamin Newhall Johnson, Four Minute Man from Lynn, Massachusetts
- Otto J. Zahn, a Southern California Four Minute Man
- Charles Chaplin, a famous comedian
- Cornebise, Alfred E. War as Advertised. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1984. 1-18.
- Cornwell, Elmer E. Jr. "Wilson, Creel, and the Presidency." The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol 23, No. 2. pp 189–202
- Creel, George. "Propaganda and Morale". The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 47, No. 3. (Nov., 1941), pp. 340–351.
- Larson, Cedric, and James R. Mock. "The Lost Files of the Creel Committee".The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 1. (Jan., 1939), pp. 5–29.
- Larson, Cedric, and James R. Mock. "The Four-Minute Men." The Quarterly Journal of Speech: 97-112. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Augustana Library, Rock Island. 2 Nov. 2006. Keyword: Four Minute Men.
- Oukrop, Carol. "The Four Minute Men Became National Network During World War I." Journalism Quarterly: 632-637. 2 Nov. 2006.
- United States. The White House. Committee on Public Information. Purpose and Plan of Four Minute Men. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1917.