“I Sustain the Wings”: The Role of Performers in Selling War Bonds in World War II

Guiding Question:

What role can popular culture have in war waging?


Using vintage newsreels and radio broadcasts from the National Archives and Records Administration and other primary sources, students will learn about the effective collaboration between the entertainment industry and the U.S. government in funding the war effort through the sale of war bonds. Students will conclude by recording their own war bond fundraising radio program modeled after those from this time period.


Historical Context

The World War II bond campaign was arguably the first recorded moment in popular culture where art influenced the political, financial, and social spheres. Performing artists became part of the American military machine in an official capacity. They encouraged other civilians to buy war bonds. More than 85 million Americans — half the population of the time — purchased bonds totaling $185.7 billion. Those incredible results, crucial to financing the World War II effort, have never since been matched.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Understand how war bonds financed much of World War II;
  • Understand that performing artists from both Hollywood and theaters across the United States were the driving forces behind the fundraising effort;
  • Understand why the use of familiar faces helped legitimize the war bond effort; and
  • Recreate a convincing marketing campaign using the tactics of those behind the war bond effort.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH 6.-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

Connections to C3 Framework
D3.1.6-8. Gather relevant information from multiple sources while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection.


  • Computer with internet capability, projector, and speakers to watch War Bond PSA and listen to NBC War Bond Parade.
  • Musical props (instruments, pots or pans, or even desks) to create sound effects for “live” radio broadcast.
  • Cardboard or posterboard and markers for students to create radio logo and signage. Students can also make time period appropriate “microphones” using coffee cups and dowel rods.
  • Radio Show Production Assignment and Rubric.

Lesson Preparation

  • Make one copy of chapter one and the conclusion of the The War Bond Story for each student.
  • Make one copy of the Radio Show Production Assignment and Rubric for each student.
  • Set up classroom technology.
  • Test all online resources before class.
  • Create a list of at least five to ten historic individuals from the time period, from popular culture to military figures (examples: Bob Hope, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, General Douglas MacArthur, etc.).


Activity One: The War Bond Story (30 minutes)

  • Read excerpts from The War Bond Story explaining the history and importance of war bonds.
    • Ask the students to identify why war bonds were necessary in funding World War II.
    • Ask the students, Olney states the war bonds democratized public finance in the war effort. Do you think this is true? If so, why?
  • Watch the War Bond PSA starring James Cagney, an example of an actor promoting the war bond effort. Ask the students:
    • Why did the War Department turn to Hollywood to promote war bonds?
    • Do you think this was effective?
    • Can you think of any examples of collaboration between entertainers and the U.S. government today?
  • Listen to the opening segment of the NBC War Bond Parade (first eight minutes of broadcast.)
    • Ask students for reactions to broadcast.
    • Make a list on board with students of elements that help make a successful radio broadcast. Ask students to make a similar list in their notebooks for future reference.
      • Teacher Tip: Answers could include: clear diction, well-written scripts, topical information and entertaining content that features popular culture figures from the day.

Assessment Materials

Assessment: Student Radio Broadcast (60 minutes)

  • Divide students into small groups of four or five students per group.
  • Distribute copies of the Radio Show Production Assignment and Rubric.
  • Assign student groups to produce their own five to ten minute live radio program modeled after the NBC War Bond Parade and imagine they are creating it during World War II. Students should first choose a specific event from the war to focus on (i.e. bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day invasion of Normandy, Battle of Guadalcanal, etc.) and storyboard their program, using elements from their list of what makes a successful radio broadcast. The content of the show could feature short news updates sourced from headlines of the time and creative content (such as jingles, sketches using sound effects created from items found in the classroom, and interviews with notable “personalities” and service members.)
    • Teacher Tip: Based on the age of the students and prior knowledge, provide access to computers or library resources to help them put their events in context.
  • Schedule time for students to present their radio show to their classmates.
  • Give each student a budget at the beginning of class, and give them fake money to buy bonds from the radio broadcast they feel most successfully persuades them to do so.
    • Teacher Tip: Student will be assessed on their grasp of time period specifics (including researching popular personalities of the time who would be featured, and grasping of current events from their chosen date, as per sheet created by teacher highlighting events or people.) Students will also be assessed on their ability to convince their classroom community to “buy” war bonds.

Methods for Extension

  • Students with more interest in the role of entertainers in the war bond effort can research war bond tours that many Hollywood studios and Broadway theaters set up to bring entertainers to small towns across the U.S.
  • Older or more advanced students may record a longer radio program on GarageBand or other recording software.
  • Teachers can enhance students’ interest in USO camp shows by exploring this related lesson plan on


  • Teachers can adapt the project to younger learners or English language learners by changing the focus of the last activity to a short class skit. Younger learners could also do a smaller project simply creating a war bond song or jingle.


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