Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The History and Resurgence of “Keep Calm and Carry On”

by Pam Hillman

Every so often a new round of memes with the “Keep Calm” slogan will circulate through social media. Or I’ll spot a t-shirt sporting the saying with everything from “Keep Calm and Take a Nap” to “Keep Calm and Glitter Everything”. That one made me laugh.

So one day after being particularly bombarded with Keep Calm memes, I got to wondering where all this Keep Calm stuff started. So, research trip via the internet highway.

The original Keep Calm quote appeared on a motivational poster created by the British government in 1939. The intention was to raise the morale of the British public as they were threatened with air attacks on all the major cities. Approximately 2.5 million copies were printed, and Britian did suffer greatly from the Blitz, the posters themselves didn’t catch on and were rarely displayed in public places.

Most of the copies were thought to be destroyed until a copy was rediscovered in a bookshop in Alnwick, England. At the time, it was believed that only two original copies had survived the war, but a collection of 20 original posters was brought to the Antiques Roadshow in 2012.

The popularity of the show and the nostalgic saying caught on, and private companies, wanna-be graphics artists, and pretty much everyone who has something to say have created posters, mugs, t-shirts, mouse pads, and memes way beyond the original 2.5 million posters that were printed.

By UK Government - Digital scan of original KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON poster
owned by wartimeposters.co.uk. Steved1973 (talk) 10:40, 22 October 2011 (UTC), Public Domain

Many of the products still sport the British crown at the top, but sometimes the crown is replaced by something more appropriate to the meme itself… a heart, a dove, a kitten, a trademarked logo, etc.

And the variations in the sayings have simply exploded in the last few years. This Keep Calm Pinterest Board has over 5,000 pins with different Keep Calm sayings. Some are fun, some are silly, and some make you pause and scratch your head in confusion—or dismay.

But back to the original poster designed to raise morale for the British public who were facing one of the biggest fights of history. Keep Calm and Carry On.

Yes, that’s good advice then and now.

What are some of the most memorable, funny, or inspiring “Keep Calm” quotes you’ve seen?

CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN attempts to KEEP CALM WHILE DROWNING UNDER DEADLINES on a daily basis. Pam was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of. www.pamhillman.com


  1. I like the poster you showed best of all: Keep calm and read a book with your book covers I did not know the origin of these quotes. My parents are from N Ireland and lived through the Blitz Mom was a nurse in the Royal Victoria Hospital at the time. Sm. wileygreen 1(at) yahoo(dot)com

  2. Sharon, like you, I didn't know the origin either. I just knew that in the last few years with the prevalence of social media and ease of making memes and our own posters, it had really taken off. I was surprised to find the original saying was from 1939. I thought that was pretty neat.

    Thanks for sharing about your parents. What a horrific time for them. What a blessing that the made it through.

  3. Beautiful poster with your book covers. Very clever. I had never even thought about the origin of the phrase. Thanks for teaching me something new today. :)