Where Did “Keep Calm” Come From?

January 6, 2015

keep calm and read this article 8

We’ve all seen these images plastered everywhere on the web, on t-shirts, posters; you name it.  I knew it had something to do with the Second World War, but what was the history?  I’m sure some of the people using the “Keep Calm” words along with some type of snarky statement have no idea of its origin.  If you don’t know how it came to be, keep calm, you soon will.

The “Keep Calm” poster was actually one of three that originated in 1939.  They were produced by the Ministry of Information of the British government to be used as motivational, morale boosting posters as the country prepared for World War II and the threat of air attacks on the major cities.  The posters featured the royal crown of King George VI and all had a similar style.  The first two posters didn’t have the “Keep Calm” statement however.  One read, “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory”, and the other read, “Freedom is in Peril, Defend It With All Your Might”.  The third poster of the series, and the most popular today, was the one that said, “Keep Calm and Carry On”.


About 2.5 million copies of the “Keep Calm” poster were printed in 1939, but it had been decided that this particular poster would be displayed only after any dangerous air raids or an invasion.  The other posters were displayed instead and the “Keep Calm” posters were put into storage.  The posters didn’t really ever see the light of day and were instead destroyed and reduced to pulp in 1940.  The overall poster publicity campaign was deemed a complete failure as many people never saw the posters, and others felt patronized by them when they did.  The “Carry On” portion did live on in a leaflet from 1941 called “Beating the Invader” that had a message from Prime Minister Winston Churchill instructing the populace to, “stand firm” and “carry on” if an invasion occurred.  From then on, the “Keep Calm and Carry On” wasn’t heard about until the turn of the century.

Stuart Manley, who ran a bookstore with his wife called Barter Books, was sorting a box he had bought at an auction in 2000 when he came across an original “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster.  They hung it up in their store, and because of its popularity with their patrons, began to make and sell copies of the long-lost poster.   From there the snowball began to roll and other companies began to use the design on all sorts of different products.  “Keep Calm and Carry On” had just been commercialized.

A UK company called Keep Calm and Carry On Ltd registered the slogan in the European Union (EU), but was unable to trademark the words in the UK.  There was a push to have the registration cancelled, but it was rejected and there is still a trademark in affect in the EU.  It looks like the company has managed to get a trademark on the term in Canada, and it seems they have a U.S. pending application, but the overall fight seems far from over.Beside from that, the poster has been used in any number of ways.  Parodies, imitations, shirts, you name it, many times with the original crown being replaced by some other object.

The original civil servant who originally came up with the slogan is still unknown.  It would be interesting to think what he or she would think about the craziness their slogan has created so many years later.  A few of the remaining posters are in the National Archives and the Imperial War Museum in London, and amazingly, fifteen of the posters were discovered on the BBC’s version of Antiques Roadshow.  A woman had been given the posters by her father who had been a member of the Royal Observer Corps.  One thing is for certain, the “Keep On” slogan has become a worldwide phenomenon.Here are some other examples of the “Keep On” themed posters.  The original discoverers of the poster didn’t want it to come to this but unfortunately it has morphed into a beast.


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That should be enough to get it out of everyone’s system, don’t you think?

Poster Credits:
Zombies-Mark Baker/Wikimedia
Microsoft Explorer-Imgur
My Wayward Son-Unknownation/Imgur 
Yoda-Lady Silke/flickr 
Write Literally-Imgur

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of great trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium. I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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