War and the home front

In 1940, Otto and Marie Neurath arrived in Britain, having fled the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands. They were interned as 'enemy aliens' before settling in Oxford in early 1941. There they set up the Isotype Institute and for the remainder of the war contributed to books and films of 'soft propaganda' sponsored by the Ministry of Information.

In collaboration with the book packaging company Adprint, the Isotype Institute produced charts for two book series intended to promote mutual understanding between Britain and its wartime allies, the Soviet Union and the United States. The Isotype Institute also produced animated charts for 17 documentary films directed by Paul Rotha, including A Few Ounces a Day (1941), World of Plenty (1943) and Land of Promise (1945).

Film: A Few Ounces a Day

A Few Ounces a Day is about the importance of saving scrap to replace materials lost in the Atlantic convoys. Isotype sequences in films were generally less than a minute in duration, but in A Few Ounces a Day they make up the entire film.

Directed by Paul Rotha for the Ministry of Information; animations produced by Science Films
Duration 5.05 minutes
Trustees of the Imperial War Museum

Working materials for A Few Ounces a Day

Stages of the film's conception and production can be seen in these working materials. The items relate to action in the first minute of the film. They include the script for voiceover narration, the scene-by-scene shooting script and the storyboard of scenes, with additional sketches. The original artwork probably served as templates for pictorial matter deployed in the animations produced by Science Films.

[7.02a] Film script, annotated by Otto Neurath
Shooting script
Storyboard with pencil drawings by Marie Neurath
Scene sketches
Original artwork

[7.14-7.16, 7.18-7.20]
'America and Britain' and 'Soviets and Ourselves' book series

These books were intended to promote mutual understanding between Britain and its principal allies in the Second World War. Differences in ways of life are examined, with contrasts of geography, climate, population and government depicted by a mixture of Isotype charts and photographs. Both series were begun during wartime and, while certified to conform with the Book Production War Economy Standard, they were subsidised by the Ministry of Information. This explains the lavish colour printing afforded to the Isotype charts.

Isotype charts printed by letterpress; text and photographs printed by photogravure
K. B. Smellie, Our Two Democracies at Work, London: Harrap, 1944
Ralph Parker, How do you do Tovarish? London: Harrap, 1947
Maurice Lovell, Landsmen and Seafarers, London: Harrap, 1945

Isotype printing blocks and prints

From the mid 1930s, Isotype pictograms were increasingly produced as photo-engraved blocks rather than as linocuts. The pictograms on the blocks shown here were printed in multiples onto paper, for use in creating photo-mechanical 'artwork' for charts. Surplus prints were stored in a numbered envelope, ready for later use.

Engraved (etched) zinc printing surface, mounted on wood


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