New from the Gilder Lehrman Collection: Fight the Red Menace

As part of our initiative to expand our twentieth-century holdings, the Gilder Lehrman Institute recently acquired a set of anti-communist trading cards from the 1950s. These cards are a dramatic example of the type of propaganda used on both sides during the Cold War to appeal to and stir up the emotions of the public. 

In 1951, a year into the Korean War, Bowman Gum, Inc., released a series of forty-eight trading cards entitled Fight the Red Menace: Children’s Crusade against Communism. These cards were designed to teach American children about the threatened spread of Communism.

Each card features a dramatic, colorful depiction of American and allied heroes and their victories or Communist villains and their atrocities. The straightforward text on the reverse uses strong language to focus on the imminent threat posed by Communism. Language and images on the cards are combined to tap into the anxiety of Americans in the post–World War II world, building on Cold War fears of infiltration at home and military attacks from abroad.

The cards feature images of air battles, technological advances, guerrilla tactics, prominent military figures, and the threat of atomic warfare. “Landing at Inchon,” card #6, depicts troops making an amphibious landing in Inchon to liberate South Korea. The language describes the aid provided to South Korean soldiers despite the overwhelming forces of North Korea. It suggests that “the Reds” must be stopped at all costs. “War Maker,” card #47, depicts a malicious Mao Tse-tung with a green-tinged face, a red, sword-wielding monster in the background. The text describes the threat that Mao poses to American democracy: “The free world must find a way to keep war-makers like Mao Tse-tung from shedding the blood of innocent people.”