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On May 22, 2002, Norman Rockwell’s famous World War II-era
painting “Rosie
the Riveter”
sold for more than $4.9 million, the highest price ever
garnered by a Rockwell painting at a public auction. That’s not bad for
arguably the second most popular image of this American pop-culture icon. And it’s
certainly nothing to blush at considering that Rockwell illustrated some of the
most revered images in the 20th-century American visual lexicon.

For those unfamiliar with Rosie the Riveter, this mythical
lady of Americana came to symbolize the role of women in the U.S. war effort
during World War II, specifically those women who took on previously
male-dominated industrial positions. Just as images of Uncle Sam called upon
American men to enlist in the armed services, Rosie appealed to American women
to fill the suddenly empty positions on U.S. assembly lines.

However, the
version of Rosie the Riveter perhaps best known
today-with a
bandana-sporting gal flexing a muscular bicep beneath the exclamation, “We
can do it!”—was not a Rockwell creation. In fact, Westinghouse artist J.
Howard Miller crafted this well-known image in 1942.

Originally, the sassy lass in the image didn’t sport the
name Rosie—or any other name, for that matter. It wasn’t until Redd Evans and
John Jacob Loeb wrote a popular song titled “Rosie the Riveter” in 1942
that the U.S. women’s war effort received a named mascot.

It’s little wonder then that when Rockwell painted his
famous image for the 1943 Memorial Day cover of The Saturday Evening Post, he depicted the name Rosie on his iconic
lady’s lunchbox. While Rockwell’s painting was perhaps more popular and
widespread during the 1940s, Miller’s version has largely usurped it in the
public consciousness, thanks to a very basic phenomenon: repetition.

The Rockwell Rosie is a guarded copyright item, complete
with all the royalty entanglements that go with protected intellectual
property. The Miller Rosie, so far as anyone can tell, never received a
copyright and remains in the public domain, where one can find reproductions of
it in all manner of products and media.

Thus, Miller’s Rosie is arguably better known, precisely
because the Rockwell Rosie was a protected image. That’s particularly ironic,
considering that Rockwell openly borrowed from an even more iconic image when
he crafted his version of Rosie.


What famous painting did celebrated American illustrator
Norman Rockwell base his famous “Rosie the Riveter” cover image on
for The Saturday Evening Post in

It’s hard to fault Rockwell’s taste, since he borrowed from
one of the undisputed greats; Rockwell found inspiration for his Rosie in Michelangelo’s
Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel ceiling
. If you’re trying to accord an image
with a certain amount of iconic weight, borrowing from a Renaissance genius’
depiction of a religious prophet is never a bad way to go.

Typical of Rockwell, the Rosie image includes plenty of
meticulous symbolic details, a likely reason why the U.S. government used the
painting in its propaganda efforts to help increase the sales of war bonds.

The most obvious example is the fact that Rosie is standing
on a side-turned copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein
, the racist treatise wherein the Fuhrer outlined his brutal Nazi
philosophy. Rosie’s “stance” on Nazism is pretty obvious: It’s only
fit to wipe her shoes on.

Speaking of shoes, it’s also worthwhile to note that even
though Rosie’s uniform includes overalls, goggles, and (redundantly) a face
shield, she is nonetheless wearing loafers. It wasn’t until the latter stages
of World War II that steel-toed work shoes were available in women’s sizes—the
demand had never previously existed—so it’s both a feminizing touch and
historically accurate detail that Rockwell’s Rosie is sporting such casual

It was also a critical point of propaganda that doing
“a man’s work” would not defeminize a woman. Rockwell walks a fine
line here; even though Rosie has Isaiah’s masculine arms, she is nonetheless
wearing rouge, lipstick, and nail polish. The historical accuracy of that
little visual flourish is probably up for debate, but Rockwell’s point is still

Today, Rockwell’s take on Rosie recurs less than J. Howard
Miller’s version in pop culture, and it’s less famous than Rockwell’s own Four
Freedoms painting series
. But nonetheless, it holds an important place in
Americana, American history, and—of course—Geek Trivia.

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of
this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article.
Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and
discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.

This quibble comes in response to the Nov. 10 edition of
Geek Trivia, “Spark
of inspiration.”
TechRepublic member Father Bob Popichak disputed my description of famed electrical
pioneer Nikola Tesla as a native Yugoslavian.

“Nikola Tesla was born in Croatia—his father was a
Serbian Orthodox priest, and his mother also [was] Serbian Orthodox. Yugoslavia
was not ‘invented’ until many years after his birth—as a political entity, it
did not exist in the 19th century.”

That’s a fair point, sir—especially since Yugoslavia doesn’t
formally exist anymore. Thanks for keeping me geopolitically correct!

The Trivia Geek, also
known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who’s
duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic
books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.