During World War I, the United States fought a war of ideas with unprecedented ingenuity and organization. President Woodrow Wilson established the Committee on Public Information (CPI) to manage news and solicit widespread support for the war at home and abroad. Under the energetic direction of Mississippi newspaper editor George Creel, the CPI churned out national propaganda through diverse media. Creel organized the “Four Minute Men,” a virtual army of volunteers who gave brief speeches wherever they could get an audience—in movie theaters, churches, synagogues, and labor union, lodge, and grange halls. Creel claimed that his 75,000 amateur orators had delivered over 7.5 million speeches to more than 314 million people. CPI publications from the Four Minute Man crusade offered tips on developing and delivering a brief, effective speech—the predecessor to today’s “sound bite.” They also recognized diverse audiences, with reports of Yiddish speakers in theaters and workplaces, a Sioux Four Minute Man, and a speech called “The Meaning of America” delivered in seven languages.
General Suggestions to Speakers
The speech must not be longer than four minutes, which means there is no time for a single wasted word.
Speakers should go over their speech time and time again until the ideas are firmly fixed in their mind and can not be forgotten. This does not mean that the speech needs to be written out and committed [memorized], although most speakers, especially when limited in time, do best to commit.
Divide your speech carefully into certain divisions, say 15 seconds for final appeal; 45 seconds to describe the bond; 15 seconds for opening words, etc., etc. Any plan is better than none, and it can be amended every day in the light of experience.
There never was a speech yet that couldn’t be improved. Never be satisfied with success. Aim to be more successful, and still more successful. So keep your eyes open. Read all the papers every day, to find a new slogan, or a new phraseology, or a new idea to replace something you have in your speech. For instance, the editorial page of the Chicago Herald of May 19 is crammed full of good ideas and phrases. Most of the article is a little above the average audience, but if the ideas are good, you should plan carefully to bring them into the experience of your auditors. There is one sentence which says, “No country was ever saved by the other fellow; it must be done by you, by a hundred million yous, or it will not be done at all.” Or again, Secretary [William] McAdoo says, “Every dollar invested in the Liberty Loan is a real blow for liberty, a blow against the militaristic system which would strangle the freedom of the world,” and so on. Both the Tribune and the Examiner, besides the Herald, contain President [Woodrow] Wilson’s address to the nation in connection with the draft registration. The latter part is very suggestive and can be used effectively. Try slogans like “Earn the right to say, I helped to win the war,” and “This is a Loyalty Bond as well as a Liberty Bond,” or “A cause that is worth living for is worth dying for, and a cause that is worth dying for is worth fighting for.” Conceive of your speech as a mosaic made up of five or six hundred words, each one of which has its function.
Get your friends to criticize you pitilessly. We all want to do our best and naturally like to be praised, but there is nothing so dangerous as “josh” and “jolly.” Let your friends know that you want ruthless criticism. If their criticism isn’t sound, you can reject it. If it is sound, wouldn’t you be foolish to reject it?
Be sure to prepare very carefully your closing appeal, whatever it may be, so that you may not leave your speech hanging in the air.
Don’t yield to the inspiration of the moment, or to applause to depart from your speech outline. This does not mean that you may not add a word or two, but remember that one can speak only 130, or 140, or 150 words a minute, and if your speech has been carefully prepared to fill four minutes, you can not add anything to your speech without taking away something of serious importance.
Cut out “Doing your bit.” "Business as usual.“ "Your country needs you.” They are flat and no longer have any force or meaning.
Time yourself in advance on every paragraph and remember you are likely to speak somewhat more slowly in public than when you practice in your own room.
There are several good ideas and statements in the printed speech recently sent you. Look it up at once.
If you come across a new slogan, or a new argument, or a new story, or a new illustration, don’t fail to send it to the Committee. We need your help to make the Four-Minute Men the mightiest force for arousing patriotism in the United States. Committee on Public Information,
Four Minute Men Bulletin 1, May 22, 1917
Yiddish-Speaking Four Minute Men Reach Jewish Section of New York
Organized Under Rabbi Robinson to Carry Government Messages Into
Jewish Theaters and Playhouses
Now Planning to Send Yiddish Speakers Into Shops
Where Jewish People Are Largely Employed
The New York City division of Four Minute Men carry on very effective work among the large Jewish population of that city.
Mr. Joseph B. Thomas, former local chairman of Four Minute Men in New York City, writes as follows:
"The work is organized under the direction of Rabbi A. G. Robinson, executive director of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association.
"At the present time the Jewish section is operating in 30 theaters, sending speakers to each twice a week. Among these are all the large Jewish playhouses of the city, each one of which has an average attendance of 2,000 at a performance. In this way we are reaching about 25,000 people per week. We expect soon to have every Jewish audience in a motion-picture house or a Jewish playhouse addressed by a Jewish playhouse addressed by a Jewish speaker. Both Yiddish and English are used in accordance with the character of the audience.
"The directors of several Young Men’s Hebrew Associations in Greater New York are enlisted as ‘Four Minute Speakers,’ and also address their members occasionally on the subjects assigned from Washington.
“We are now planning to send Yiddish speakers into the various shops of the city where Jewish help is most largely employed. We are also arranging to reach the thousand or more synagogues of the city where Yiddish is best understood.”
The speakers are introduced in the motion-picture theaters by slides bearing the usual announcement, printed in Yiddish; similar to the actual example shown above.
Lieutenant Lester Collier Acting as Four-Minute Man.
Lieut. Lester Collier, who recently returned from service in France with the Seventh Section, Twenty-first Division, French Ambulance Corps, is acting as a Four-Minute Man at Little Rock, Ark. He saw action at Verdun, at Soissons, and in the drive on Laon. In theaters, schools, and club meetings he tells of his experiences with “The Lucky Seventh,” as his section was called.
Lieut. Collier often drove his ambulance over roads under fire from the Germans, and tells of one occasion when a recruit assigned to his machine was killed at his side by a flying piece of shell which exploded a few feet ahead of them.
Meaning of America in Seven Languages
Hartford, Conn., Four Minute Men during the July 4 patriotic exercises addressed various national groups in their own languages.
There was an address in Italian by Michelo Riccio, Italian consul; in Polish by Rev. Stanislau Musiel; in Lithuanian by Rev. John J. Ambot; in Magyar-Hungarian by Rev. Peter Dolin; in Russian by Rev. Constantin Bukstoff; in Ukrainian by Rev. Theodore Helanda and Rev. Romen Zalitsch; in Armenian by Prof. Armidos Ananakian and Mr. Partovan; and in Bohemian-Slovak by William Shultz.
“The Meaning of America” was the subject of the various addresses, and the taking out of naturalization papers was the action urged upon the crowds.
Exponent of Violence not a Four Minute Man
A newspaper in Pennsylvania recently ran an item concerning an alleged Four Minute Man who said in a speech at a moving-picture house that the people of his town were “determined to wipe out seditious talk among pro-Germans here even if it requires tar and feathers and a stout rope in the hands of a necktie party.” The speaker then went on to mention the names of several citizens of the town whom he accused of being “slackers in the purchase of war stamps and also disloyal to their adopted country in uttering seditious remarks.” An investigation was immediately instigated by headquarters, and we were glad to find the speaker was not a Four Minute Man but had been so styled simply through the ignorance of a newspaper reporter who had not inquired concerning the speaker’s credentials. This disclosure rendered it unnecessary to demand the immediate dismissal of this individual from our ranks; but his inflammatory statements did not go entirely unpunished. Our chairman for that community informs us that one result of his speech was that he was soundly trounced by two sons of one of the men whose name he mentioned, which may have had a subduing effect.
Full-Blooded Sioux Acts as Four Minute Man
Dupree, S. Dak., has a full-blooded Sioux Indian, Thomas J. Rouillaurd, acting as a Four Minute Man, largely among people of his own race.
In accepting the appointment, Mr. Rouillaurd said:
“I think the Indians are doing their best for the country, but more could be done if they understood more fully what this war means to us. I have already made a few talks to them on the Red Cross, Liberty Loan, and the cause for which we fight, but with your appointment and help, I shall do my very best to encourage them to do more than ever before. The bulletins you sent are very interesting to read and to study.”
Governor Endorses Organization
“I feel that the work organized under the name of the Four Minute Men has been of very great service indeed in spreading public information and in quickening the war spirit of our people. I hope that any man who has the ability to speak and is asked for that service as a Four Minute Man, will count it a great privilege and feel that in so doing he is helping in a very direct and important way toward winning the war.”—Governor [Carl E.] Milliken, of Maine.
Committee on Public Information, Four Minute Men Bulletin 1, May 22, 1917
I am the man who speaks throughout the length and breadth of our country.
I look east out past the Statue of Liberty toward the flaming battle line.
The sun sets in the Pacific as I work along our western shores.
The Southland hears my call, Canada knows I am her friend.
I am in the War Department, the Treasury, the cantonments, factories, and shipyards, in the busy city office, and in the country store beside the cracker barrel.
I am on active duty every evening.
I see the city’s dazzling lights and the country’s twinkling lamps.
I am poor and rich, young and old.
I build morale and confidence in the right.
I defeat fear, mistrust, and ignorance.
Lies are cut down and fall naked before my sword.
False rumor flies before the searchlight of my truth as does the mist at sunrise.
I make clear the issues so that all may know and understand.
It is my duty “to hold unbroken the inner lines,” [and] “to inspire to highest action and noblest sacrifice.”
I am everywhere helping to win this greatest of wars and to save the world for God and man.
I am here to stay on duty until the fight is won.
I am the Four Minute Man.
Four Minute Men News, Edition C.
Speech by a Four Minute Man
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I have just received the information that there is a German spy among us—
a German spy watching us.
He is around, here somewhere, reporting upon you and me—sending reports about us to Berlin and telling the Germans just what we are doing with the Liberty Loan. From every section of the country these spies have been getting reports over to Potsdam—not general reports but details—where the loan is going well and where its success seems weak, and what people are saying in each community.
For the German Government is worried about our great loan. Those Junkers fear its effect upon the German morale. They’re raising a loan this month, too.
If the American people lend their billions now, one and all with a hip-hip-hurrah, it means that America is united and strong. While, if we lend our money half-heartedly, America seems weak and autocracy remains strong.
Money means everything now; it means quicker victory and therefore less bloodshed. We are in the war, and now Americans can have but one opinion, only one wish in the Liberty Loan.
Well, I hope these spies are getting their messages straight, letting Potsdam know that America is hurling back to the autocrats these answers:
For treachery here, attempted treachery in Mexico, treachery everywhere—one billion.
For murder of American women and children—one billion more.
For broken faith and promise to murder more Americans—billions and billions more.
And then we will add:
In the world fight for Liberty, our share—billions and billions and billions and endless billions.
Do not let the German spy hear and report that you are a slacker.
Committee on Public Information, Four Minute Man Bulletin, No. 17 (October 8, 1917).
Poem Read by Four Minute Men
“It’s Duty Boy”
My boy must never bring disgrace to his immortal sires—
At Valley Forge and Lexington they kindled freedom’s fires,
John’s father died at Gettysburg, mine fell at Chancellorsville;
While John himself was with the boys who charged up San Juan Hill.
And John, if he was living now, would surely say with me,
"No son of ours shall e’er disgrace our grand old family tree
By turning out a slacker when his country needs his aid."
It is not of such timber that America was made.
I’d rather you had died at birth or not been born at all,
Than know that I had raised a son who cannot hear the call
That freedom has sent round the world, its previous rights to save—
This call is meant for you, my boy, and I would have you brave;
And though my heart is breaking, boy, I bid you do your part,
And show the world no son of mine is cursed with craven heart;
And if, perchance, you ne’er return, my later days to cheer,
And I have only memories of my brave boy, so dear,
I’d rather have it so, my boy, and know you bravely died
Than have a living coward sit supinely by my side.
To save the world from sin, my boy, God gave his only son—
He’s asking for My boy, to-day, and may His will be done.
Poem Read by Four Minute Men
Attention, Mr. Farmer Man, and listen now to me,
and I will try and show to you what I can plainly see.
Your Uncle Sam, the dear old man who’s been so good to you,
is needing help and watching now to see what you will do.
Your Uncle’s in the great world war and since he’s entered in
it’s up to every one of us to see that he shall win.
He’s trying hard to “speed things up” and do it with a dash,
and so just now he’s asking you to aid him with your cash.
Remember, all he asks of you is but a simple loan,
and every patriot comes across without a single moan.
Should Uncle Sammy once get mad (he will if you get lax),
he then will exercise his right, and make you pay a tax.
Should Kaiser Bill and all his hordes, once get across the Pond,
d’ye think he’ll waste his time on you, and coax to take a bond?
Why no, siree. He’d grab and hold most everything he saw.
He’d take your farm, your stock and lands, your wife and babies all.
He’d make you work, he’d make you sweat, he’d squeeze you till you’d groan.
So be a man, and come across. Let Uncle have that loan.
Four Minute Men News, Edition D
Source: Reprinted in Alfred Cornbise, War As Advertised: The Four Minute Men and America’s Crusade, 1917–1918 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1984).