Collier's Photographic History of the World's War

Manufacturing Visions of War

“Photographs alone tell the story of each day’s conflicts… even the correspondents at the front are eliminated, but these record with fatelike accuracy the progress of the war.”

Over the course of World War I, Collier & Sons published five volumes of war photography (1915-1919). The title of these volumes eventually changed to reflect the expansion of the war, switching “European War” for “World’s War” after 1918. These books claimed the bold intention of bringing the visuals of the new European war into American homes with distinct integrity, each new edition serving as an update with new photographs. The images inside the first volume (1915) give a unique perspective of the early war, highlighting the development of trenches, new technology, and the impact on local culture. However, the frame provided by these books was purposefully limited; its “fatelike accuracy” captures only what governments at home and abroad wanted the American public to see. The visions of war manufactured within the Collier volumes were affected by layers of censorship and were carefully constructed to be tools of propaganda. They reflect the new ways in which governments during WWI realized how powerfully the medium of photography could shape how people imagined the conflict. The invention of war photography became a powerful mechanism for propaganda. This concept is especially well illustrated in the contrast seen between the 1915 and 1918 editions (the latter published after the US had officially joined the war) which shifts to frame the American forces as uniquely powerful and prepared. 

It is important to critically consider these volumes through the lens of American censorship and propaganda. This online exhibition features digitizations of the 1915, 1917, 1918, and 1919 editions of the WWI Collier volumes, as well as pages of analysis and themed galleries. 

The first Collier volume, this edition traces the first year of the war, focusing on the development of the trench warfare, naval & aerial advancements, early destruction, and the local experience of war.

The third Collier volume, the first to be published after America’s entrance into the war, this edition focuses on activities at sea and in the trenches. Some images from the first volume are also included.

The fourth Collier volume, this edition departs the farthest from the other editions. This edition has a heavy focus on America’s entrance into the war, detailing their military preparations and presence in Europe. 

The fifth & last Collier volume, and published after Germany’s surrender in 1918, this edition serves primarily as a sort of “best of” with many images from previous the volumes collected together.

Themed Galleries


Airplanes and aerial warfare quickly became important to the war effort—and greatly fascinated the public.

Death & Mourning

All of the volumes, although to varying extents, picture the death & mourning war causes.


All the volumes include “sketches, drawings, and paintings made by artists at the front.”


All the volumes begin with an overview of the leaders, including biographical information.


Advancements in medicine and the work of field medics and nurses were key to the war effort.


The sea was its own theater of war characterized by battleships, submarines, and blockades.


Weapons of war evolved greatly; for example, machine guns, chemical warfare, and strategic bombing.


Women took on new roles during WWI, such as in medicine, manufacturing, agriculture, and even service.