Keep Calm and Carry On and it’s hundreds of variations have become synonymous with pop culture. The iconic crown resting above the distinctive typography make it a powerful and inspiring message. The multiplicities of adaptations evoke humor, shock, nerdiness/fandom, and (since we are a commercialist society) brand awareness. Where did this message come from? How did it emerge and rise to its position as a household name?
Interestingly enough, my research has found that despite its current popularity, Keep Calm and Carry On is quite old news. Actually, if there are any British hipsters in my readership who happen to have been alive during WWII, they will tell you that they knew all about it before it was cool.
Fun fact: The message was first depicted on a poster, which was one of several produced by the British government during the Second World War to increase public morale. The three signs were topped with the distinctive image of King George VI’s crown, and displayed a message of encouragement to citizens. The two other posters read:
“Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution will Bring Us Victory”
“Freedom is in Peril”
Most of these posters were destroyed or lost over the years. It wasn’t until the 1990s when a bookseller at Barter Books found a copy tucked in with a collection of antique books bought at auction that the message emerged again. So moved by the sign’s message, the owner of Barter Books framed the poster and hung it above the cash register. It attracted a lot of attention and inquiries, and soon began to spread virally in digital form. In 2012, Barter Books released a short film on YouTube titled “The Story of Keep Calm and Carry On” detailing its origin and rise to fame.
Other original productions of Keep Calm and Carry On have resurfaced at auctions and antique shows in recent years. A few copies are also preserved in the British National Archives as well as at the Imperial War Museum in London.
Pretty neat, huh?
I would love to hear your favorite versions. Please comment below!