Biography of George Creel, Journalist and Mastermind of WWI Propaganda

George Creel, head of the United States Committee on Public Information
George Creel, head of the United States Committee on Public Information.

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George Creel (December 1, 1876—October 2, 1953) was a newspaper reporter, politician, and author who, as chairman of the U.S. Committee on Public Information during World War I, sought to gain public support for the war effort and shaped government publicity and propaganda efforts for years to come. 

Fast Facts: George Creel

  • Full Name: George Edward Creel
  • Known For: American investigative journalist, author, politician, and government official
  • Born: December 1, 1876 in Lafayette County, Missouri
  • Parents: Henry Creel and Virginia Fackler Creel
  • Died: October 2, 1953 in San Francisco, California
  • Education: Mostly homeschooled
  • Published Works: How We Advertised America (1920)
  • Key Accomplishments: Chairman of U.S. Committee on Public Information (1917-1918)
  • Spouses: Blanche Bates (1912-1941), Alice May Rosseter (1943-1953)
  • Children: George Creel Jr. (son) and Frances Creel (daughter)
  • Notable Quote: “We did not call it propaganda, for that word, in German hands, had come to be associated with deceit and corruption.”

Early Life and Education 

George Edward Creel was born on December 1, 1876, in Lafayette County, Missouri, to Henry Creel and Virginia Fackler Creel, who had three sons, Wylie, George, and Richard Henry. Despite having been the son of a wealthy southern slave owner, George’s father Henry failed to adjust to life after the Civil War. Left penniless by several failed attempts at farming, Henry drifted into alcoholism. George’s mother, Virginia, supported the family by sewing and operating a boarding house in Kansas City. After the boarding house failed, the family moved to Odessa, Missouri. 

Creel was most inspired by his mother, often saying, “I knew my mother had more character, brains, and competence than any man that ever lived.” His admiration of his mother’s sacrifices to support the family led Creel to support the women’s suffrage movement later in his life. Mostly homeschooled by his mother, Creel gained knowledge of history and literature and would later attend Odessa College in Odessa, Missouri for less than a year. 

Career: Reporter, Reformer, Propagandist 

In 1898, Creel got his first job as a cub reporter at the Kansas City World newspaper earning $4 a week. Shortly after being promoted to writing feature articles, he was fired for refusing to write an article he felt might embarrass a prominent local businessman whose daughter had eloped with the family’s coach driver. 

After a brief stay in New York City, Creel returned to Kansas City in 1899 to join his friend Arthur Grissom in publishing their own newspaper, the Independent. When Grissom left, Creel transformed the Independent into a platform to promote women’s rights, organized labor, and other Democratic Party causes. 

Creel gave away the Independent in 1909 and moved to Denver, Colorado, to work writing editorials for the Denver Post. After resigning from the Post, he worked for The Rocky Mountain News from 1911 to 1912, writing editorials supporting then-presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson and demanding political and social reforms in Denver. 

President Wilson and George Creel at Train Station
January 1919. President Wilson and George Creel, Committee on Public Information leave Royal Train at Station in Alps for exercise. Taken on way to Rome, Italy. Bettmann / Getty Images

In June 1912, Denver’s reformer mayor, Henry J. Arnold, appointed Creel as Denver Police Commissioner. Though his aggressive reform campaigns caused internal dissension that eventually got him fired, he was praised nationally as a vigilant watchdog and advocate for the people.

In 1916, Creel threw himself into President Wilson’s successful re-election campaign. Working for the Democratic National Committee, he wrote feature articles and interviews supporting Wilson’s platform. Shortly after the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Creel learned that many military leaders had urged the Wilson administration to press for strict censorship of any criticism of the war by the media. Concerned by the specter of censorship, Creel sent President Wilson a letter arguing a policy of “expression, not suppression” of the press. Wilson liked Creel’s ideas and appointed him as chairman of the Committee on Public Information (CPI), a special wartime independent federal agency

The CPI was intended to bolster the American public’s support for the war effort through the dissemination of carefully-crafted propaganda in newspapers, magazines, radio programs, movies, and speeches. While popular with the public, Creel’s work at the CPI was criticized by several of his fellow journalists for overstating reports of U.S. military successes while suppressing bad or unflattering news about the war effort.

With the signing of the Armistice with Germany on November 11, 1918, the CPI was disbanded. Under Creel’s direction, the CPI was regarded as the most successful public relations effort in history. In 1920, Creel joined Collier’s magazine as a feature writer, eventually moving to San Francisco, California, in 1926. During the 1920s, Creel authored several books, including “How We Advertised America,” a work recounting of the success of the CPI at delivering the “Gospel of Americanism.” 

Creel reentered politics in 1934 running unsuccessfully against author Upton Sinclair in the Democratic primary for governor of California. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him chairman of the National Advisory Board for the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration (WPA). As top U.S. representative to the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, Creel helped Mexico create its own Ministry of Public Information and Propaganda. 

Personal Life 

Creel was married to actress Blanche Bates from November 1912 until her death in December 1941. The couple had two children, a son named George Jr. and a daughter named Frances. In 1943, he married Alice May Rosseter. The couple remained together until George’s death in 1953. 

During his final years, Creel continued to write books, including his memoir “Rebel at Large: Recollections of Fifty Crowded Years.” George Creel died in San Francisco, California, on October 2, 1953, and is buried in Mount Washington Cemetery in Independence, Missouri.

Sources and Further Reference