In November 1941, the American Red Cross, the United Service Organizations (USO) and the American Library Association (ALA) formed the Victory Book Campaign (originally named the National Defense Book Campaign). This nationwide campaign’s goal was for the public to donate books as reading material for members of the armed forces. The books would supplement the materials for the Army and Navy’s library service. The need for the campaign arose because military numbers increased very rapidly following the Selective Service Act of 1940, and the government was initially unequipped to supply books to the troops.
Headquartered in the Empire State Building, the Victory Book Campaign was launched on the steps of the New York Public Library on January 12, 1942. Noted personalities, such as radio and screen star Dick Powell pictured below, helped promote the Victory Book Campaign.
Members of the public delivered books to their local library. Businesses installed collection boxes for employee donations. Shops designed window displays calling for donations. Children brought books to school. Red Cross trucks could be called to pick up book donations. Red Cross volunteers, and volunteers from other community groups, then sorted the books. Two years of the book campaign (1942 & 1943) provided over 10 million books to the military.
The Victory Book Campaign closed down its operations on December 31, 1943. By that time the War and Navy Departments had embarked on their own major book purchasing program where, in collaboration with publishers, millions of books would be sent overseas. This rendered the work of the Victory Book Campaign redundant and the American Red Cross, the American Library Association and the USO agreed to discontinue the program.