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Keep Calm and Carry On is a catchphrase that originally appeared on a World War II-era British public safety poster. After one of the original posters was recovered and placed in a British bookshop in 2000, the inspirational message was shared online, sparking a series of image macros centered around the phrasal template “Keep Calm and X.”
The Keep Calm and Carry On poster was commissioned in 1939 by the temporary Ministry of Information in England, following the printing of two other inspirational posters stating “Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might” and “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory.” It was intended to be used to strengthen morale in the event of a large-scale attack or occupation, which many considered inevitable at the time. Though more than million of these posters were originally commissioned, after the war ended they were kept in storage where most were destroyed.
In 2000, Stuart Manley and his wife Mary found the poster folded at the bottom of a box of old books they purchased at an auction for their Alnwick, England bookshop, Barter Books. Not knowing its origins, the couple had it framed and hung it in the shop, where they began selling prints of it the following year. According to Mary, they had sold over 40,000 copies by March 2009. As of 2012, Barter is not the only place that houses original copies of the poster. The Imperial War Museum in England has approximately six and fifteen additional copies were found in February 2012, where they were appraised on the television show Antiques Roadshow.
The website KeepCalmAndCarryOn.com was registered in February 2007, with an online shop selling a variety of related merchandise featuring the slogan, ranging from T-shirts and bags to deck chairs and chocolate bars. In November 2008, crowdsourced T-shirt company Threadless became the first website to release merchandise with a spoof design of the poster, using an upside-down crown and the slogan “Now Panic and Freak Out.”
In 2009, the poster saw its biggest resurgence due to the spread of a global economic crisis in England; The Guardian and The Independent both published articles about the relevance of the poster to people dealing with these troubles. That year, Dr. Rebecca Lewis, whose Ph.D. thesis was on the original poster series, began a blog to track any mentions and derivatives of Keep Calm and Carry On posters. In November 2009, The Welsh rock band Stereophonics released their seventh album Keep Calm and Carry On, named after the poster. In May 2010, the French website Geekiz posted a compilation of 85 variations of the poster. British loyalty card Nectar launched the ad campaign “Keep Calm and Carry One” to get people to sign up for their service the following year.
In April 2009, the Keep Calm-o-maticimage generator was created, allowing users to make their own posters as well as hosting a gallery of images made with the site. This easy way to create derivatives of the original poster took off with users either using “Keep Calm and X” or by changing the text entirely. The New York Times Magazine investigated the popularity of these images three months later. Collections of these images were featured on Inspiration Feed, Buzzfeed and Apartment Therapy. On Flickr, there is a community pool featuring variations on the design with just under 500 submissions. Online marketplace Etsy has more than 10,000 different items featuring the original phrase as well as derivatives.
Independent – First person: “I am the Keep Calm and Carry On man”
The Guardian – Nectar Loyalty Card Advert: Keep Calm and Carry One