The Story Behind “Keep Calm and Carry On”

Posted on April 5, 2012


Stuart and Mary Manley are owners of Barter Books, a bookstore in Alnwick, Northumberland.  Barter Books is so named because customers are allowed to- literally- barter for their books.  If you aren’t convinced yet that Stuart and Mary are the coolest old people ever, you need to re-evaluate your life priorities (keep calm and keep reading).

One day, this bookstore-owning, book-bartering duo dug through boxes of paper they recently bought at an auction.  One set of posters caught their eye.

The set of posters they found were propaganda posters from WWII, printed in 1939 by the Ministry of Magic Information.  One read “Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might,” one “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory,” and oh yeah, there was another one.  “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Before writing this blog post, I had “Keep Calm and Carry On” in the same category as Katy Perry:  cutesy, overplayed, and a different strangely bright color every day.

In case you’re interested, this historical replica is available on etsy

But it turns out there is a historical richness to the slogan that I never realized.  The poster was different than most war-time propaganda in 1939; there was no picture besides the symbol of the crown, and there was a very unique, specially designed font.  The new font aimed to be 1. recognizable by citizens and 2. unreproducible by enemies. The simplicity of the crown, the font, and three succinct slogans turned into one of the Ministry of Information’s most recognizable marketing campaigns.

Mary and Stuart the Awesome hung the three posters up in their bookstore, and in 2000, the propaganda was just as effective as it was in 1939.  Customers expressed so much interest in “Keep Calm and Carry On” that Barter Books began selling prints of the poster (apparently “”Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it).  Before anyone knew what was happening, the internet exploded, and we all seemed to rally around the slogan just as the UK did during WWII.

I wonder what people during WWII felt when they saw the vivid posters reading “Keep Calm and Carry On?”  I would be willing to bet it’s the same mix of emotions we feel today. My husband, Erik, studied Biblical Archaeology  (translation:  he studied the history and anthropology of people who lived thousands of years ago).  Ask him his number one takeaway? People 2,000 years ago were exactly the same as people today.  They had the same vices, same virtues, same struggles, same love stories.

The people in 1939 who read the  “Keep Calm and Carry On” sign needed the message as much as we do.  They were just like people today.

Some already had their own calming method of choice.

He’s so proud of me

Some were nerdy.

Sorry guys, I’ve tried- doesn’t work in real life.

Some were funny.

Although there’s nothing funny about cake.

Some were really, really funny.

I bet people in 1939 would have LOVED the Walking Dead

Although I like to pretend that I am not one of the masses who have used and abused this poster, in a way I have been doing so all my life.  The message “Keep Calm and Carry On” is one I have been attracted to in every medium.  In middle school I journaled with hearts, squiggles and angst until I was calmed from whatever life catastrophe I currently felt I was experiencing.  My senior year of high school, I played Shawn Mullins “Lullaby” over and over again until I believed everything was gonna be alright.  And one of my favorite promises offered in the Bible is “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,” or as I like to say “peace that makes no sense.”

What’s your own personal version of “Keep Calm and Carry On?” And do you love or hate the recent KCCO craze?

Related Links:

1. Barter Books YouTube Video :

2. Barter Books  “Keep Calm and Carry On” Souvenir shop

3. Keep Calm and Sparkle On

Posted in: So Relevant