Armed Services Editions

Armed Services Editions like these introduced thousands of American soldiers and sailors to the pleasures of reading.

Between 1943 and 1947, nearly 123 million copies of 1,332 titles of these flat, wide, and very pocketable paperbacks were distributed to U.S. Armed Forces around the world. The genres included best-sellers, classics, mysteries, poetry, westerns, and more. A massive effort was initiated by a young U.S. Army officer named Ray L. Trautman in 1942 who served as head of the army Library Section, with the assistance of H. Stahley Thompson, a U.S. Army graphic arts specialist. The books were printed on rotary presses used for printing magazines but readily available during wartime because of the drop in the production of consumer goods.

This great idea was turned into an efficient and wildly successful cooperative enterprise which involved the army, navy, the War Production Board, over seventy publishing firms, and more than a dozen printing houses, composition firms, and paper suppliers. Why are they considered ephemera? Not only were they cheaply made, and distributed only to U.S. Armed Forces, but also note the disclaimer on the cover of every title, which says, in part, “Not for sale.”

They were never meant to be collected, or saved, but rather to provide much needed distraction to military personnel during wartime. Their survival in collections and libraries around the world speak to the power of books and reading.

Armed Services Editions