Where Did the “Keep Calm and Carry On” Meme Come From?
By Editor-in-Chief David Lee Cummings in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Surely you’ve seen the “Keep Calm and Carry On” meme on a T-shirt or the Internet. So, where did this ubiquitous iconic image of today come from?
We have the extraordinary answer for you. So, keep calm and read on…
During the buildup to World War II, the British government commissioned the production of three propaganda posters to reassure its citizens and keep up morale in times of war, poverty, and disaster. A steely resolve to remain unflustered in the face of crisis is, after all, a part of the British character, so these posters tapped into that ethos.
The instructions for the design of these posters were very simple: use a “special and handsome typeface” to make them difficult for the enemy to counterfeit, use just two colors, and feature the crown of King George VI as the only graphic device. The crown was to symbolize that each message was coming from the King of England to his people during their time of struggle.
Three final designs went into production and cost 44 thousand pounds to produce. The first poster (800,000 printed) was printed on a red background to symbolize Britain and carried the following slogan:
WILL BRING US VICTORY
Many citizens, however, were not happy with the use of “your” and “us” in the poster. What’s more, many also associated the word “resolution” with New Year’s celebrations.
The second poster (400,000 printed) appealed to the championing of freedom, when the threat to the concept was real, menacing, and impending:
FREEDOM IS IN PERIL
DEFEND IT WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT
These first two posters were distributed in September of 1939, at the start of World War II. They appeared in shop windows and at railway platforms throughout the country.
The third, and today most famous, poster was simple, imploring citizens to persevere with a stoic courage:
AND CARRY ON
This third poster, however—of which 2.5 million were printed—never saw the light of day. It was put on reserve, intended for use only in the case of invasion by Germany, which never happened. After the war, paper shortages led to much of the poster stock being converted into pulp. Few of the original posters survived, and the public never saw it.
That is, until more than 50 years later, when a copy of the poster turned up at a secondhand bookshop in the northeast corner of England. Stuart Manley, co-proprietor of Barter Books in Alnwick, Northumberland, England, found the poster in 2000 in a box of dusty old books he bought at auction. Wife and co-proprietor Mary was fond of the poster and had it framed and hung up in the bookshop near the cash register. Customers liked the poster so much that, a year later, the Manleys began reprinting and selling copies of it.
The poster ultimately found its way onto the Internet, quickly becoming a sensation and rising to the status of an iconic meme of the 21st century. It began appearing everywhere, including on web pages, coffee mugs, T-shirts, tea towels, coasters, and more. Barter Books even maintains a special website where various items printed with the poster, as well as copies all three posters, can be purchased: http://www.keepcalmhome.com.
People have also taken to creating their own clever and cute variations of the message. Online “Keep Calm and Carry On” meme creators allowing you to create your own custom versions have popped up:
So, now that you know the amazing story behind this iconic poster, as you face life’s many challenges you’ll know you’re sharing in a bit of the British resolve when you follow its timeless message:
AND CARRY ON.
David Lee Cummings
David is the editor-in-chief of Vox Humana. His passions include new experiences, new places, different cultures, befriending foreigners, international cuisines, and a cool pool on a hot summer's day. He works in digital advertising on some of the world's largest brands and spends his free time applying his professional learnings to Vox Humana and other charitable projects. David is also a technophile and hopes to live long enough to witness the moment of technological singularity.