With the end of World War I the United States federal government faced a bit of a dilemma, it had borrowed significant amounts of capital to finance the United States war effort and with the war concluded it needed a bit more borrowed capital to square things away. The U.S. federal government also wanted to borrow the money at attractive interest rates, to bring in financiers, but to do so without the risks of borrowing on the open capital market in what experts thought might be an economically difficult post-war transition period. Hence the final liberty loan drive, the so-titled “Victory Liberty Loan.”
Begun in April 1919 the goal of this bond run was for the U.S. federal government to raise a total of $4.5 billion with gold-backed bonds, paying 4.75%, and redeemable in four years. (The government had an option to snap them back after three years if it wished.) As a bonus all interest paid on these bonds was exempt from income taxes. The bonds sold well, aimed mainly towards businesses and wealthier individuals look for save havens for their money, but the campaign was considered lackluster by people of the period. Previous liberty bond issues had posters oriented towards patriotism, showing individuals fighting, striving, surviving and the evil Hun being blasted or defied. As the top example shows, this bond run was more emphasized on a “Eh, I could get behind that” outlook.
However the United States federal government, leaning on the army, did have one particularly darling promotional effort that did capture the hearts of the American people, “Little Zeb.” “Little Zeb” was a Renault FT of French construction, deployed with American forces in World War I, that was shipped around the country by train to roll around the countryside and get people excited about buying the final bond issue. The tank was used to not only drum up enthusiasm but also get small towns involved – “Little Zeb” put in several appearances in Colorado where pictures were snapped of it.
“Little Zeb” though was also more than a promotional piece, it was a window into the future of warfare, although few realized it at the time. The Renault FT, and later US M1917, represented a revolution in tank design. Prior to these vehicles tanks in World War I were based around the core of ideas of “big, heavy, massive armor, multiple guns, slow.” The Renault FT was conceived of as a light tank, built and designed by the French, and to be used in “swarm tactics” to overwhelm the enemy. It was more lightly armored, faster than other tanks, had a turret in which was mounted its main gun, and carefully designed tracks that could operate more effectively over difficult terrain.
Take a good look at that design, although obsolete by World War II this light tank was the defining look for what a “tank” would become and its roots are still present in modern armor design. The tactics also used for this vehicle were the opening examples of what would later become the modern version of Germany’s “war of movement” using armor in World War II. (The misnamed “blitzkrieg” model of warfare.)
On a final note, although obsolete by World War II this tank was still in use by many nations in the early 1940s, it had been copied, both legally and illegally, the world over because it was a charming little tank.
Sources: Wikipedia articles on Liberty Bonds, the Renault FT tank, entry in “Birth of a Market” on U.S. securities, and Images of America, Early Glenwood Springs by Cynthia Hines and the Frontier Historical Society, pp. 120