Four Minute Men

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The Four Minute Men were a group of volunteers authorized by United States President Woodrow Wilson, to give four-minute speeches on topics given to them by The Committee on Public Information. In 1917-1918, around 7,555,190 speeches were given in 5,200 communities[1]. 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. Also, the speeches were made to be four minutes so that they could be given at town meetings, restaurants, and other places that had an audience. This is an instance of "viral marketing" before its time.


In 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,[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]


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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] He had to address the country's self-perception to generate support for the war.[citation needed] The Four-Minute Men provided an answer to these challenges.

In addition, the Four Minute Men urged citizens to purchase Liberty Bonds and Thrift Stamps.[2][3][4]

Addressing challenges[edit]

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.

These speeches usually celebrated Woodrow Wilson as a larger than life character and the Germans as less-than-human huns. [5]


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.


Notable Four Minute Men[edit]


  • Cornebise, Alfred E. War as Advertised: the Four Minute Men and America's crusade, 1917-1918. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1984. ISBN 0871691566 OCLC 11222054
  • Cornwell, Elmer E. Jr. "Wilson, Creel, and the Presidency." The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol 23, No. 2, pages 189–202. ISSN 0033-362X
  • Creel, George. "Propaganda and Morale". The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 47, No. 3. (Nov., 1941), pages 340–351. ISSN 0002-9602
  • Larson, Cedric, and James R. Mock. "The Lost Files of the Creel Committee". The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 1. (Jan., 1939), pages 5–29. ISSN 0033-362X
  • Larson, Cedric, and James R. Mock. "The Four-Minute Men." The Quarterly Journal of Speech: 97-112. ISSN 0033-5630
  • Oukrop, Carol. "The Four Minute Men Became National Network During World War I." Journalism Quarterly: 632-637. ISSN 0196-3031
  • United States. The White House. Committee on Public Information. Purpose and Plan of Four Minute Men: a National Organization of Volunteer Speakers for Government Presentation of Topics of National Importance to Motion-picture Theater Audiences. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1917. OCLC 430512975