During the 19th century posters were primarily used as a means of advertising and publicity. It would take the events of the First World War and the Russian Revolution to change their use from commercial to a means of propaganda and education. Posters became a means to educate or re-educate a nation according to the beliefs of their leaders—whether as a rallying point in war or to inspire revolution.
For Soviet Russia the poster was a means of spreading state information targeting the population across a vast and diverse country. Literacy had been a problem in Russia—according to 1897 national census, under Tsarist rule just 28.4% of the populace were literate. After the revolution, Lenin promised to “liquidate illiteracy” and by 1926, 56.6% of Russians were registered as literate.
However, knowing that at least half of your workforce was illiterate was a hinderance to the planned Soviet industrialization of the country.The workforce had to be educated as quickly and successfully as possible. To solve the problem accident prevention posters were produced disseminating clear and succinct warnings to all possible hazards faced by the Soviet workforce in industry and agriculture. “Be careful with a fork,” “Hey Scatterbrain! Don’t cripple your Friends!” or “Don’t Walk on Fish!” reinforced the need for the individual to take responsibility of their own actions for the benefit of the greater good. Though many of the messages may strike us now as bizarre or strange (“A fan is a friend of labor. Let it work forever.”), they all reflect a revolutionary change to the quality of health and safety at work.
‘Hide the Hair.’
‘Don’t Walk on Fish!’
‘Chemical containers should have accurate inscriptions!’
‘Hey Scatterbrain! Don’t cripple your Friends!’
‘They are working upstairs.’
‘Don’t Walk Under the Transmission Arbor!’
‘Don’t Clean the Cylinder while it’s Moving.’
‘You are on the highway—Not in space!’
‘Never use water to extinguish an engine! Water is an electricity conductor!’
‘I was drunk at work.’
‘Be careful with a spade.’
‘Be careful with forks.’
‘Be careful with a shovel.’
‘Throwing off the fender, hold the clamp.’
‘They are working upstairs—Don’t stay under the mast!’
‘A fan is a friend of labor. Let it work forever.’
‘Lay the bricks in the right way.’
‘Throw rags about—Get hit in the face.’
‘Don’t clutter your working place.’
‘Don’t work with an untied hose.’
‘Look out for splashes! They can burn you.’
‘Clinch the nails.’
‘Look where you are going.’
‘Look Out for the Buffers.’
Via Flashbak and English Russia.