The United States had entered the conflict the prior year, on April 6, 1917, and began selling bonds to raise funds for the war effort. Although many Americans were caught up in a patriot fervor, war bond sales were initially quite weak. Most Americans in the late 1910s had never bought a bond of any kind.
To promote sales, the government began enlisting celebrities from several fields of entertainment, most notably motion pictures. Since the New York area was filled with film stars — Hollywood not yet being the center of the film business — its streets were soon filled with dutiful movie stars, extolling the patriotic and moral virtues of supporting their county through bond sales.
Celebrities drew tens of thousands to Wall Street and the foot of the United States Sub Treasury building (today`s Federal Hall) to drum up support for World War I war bonds / Liberty Bonds.
Another example, the sale of doughnuts — considered a symbol of wartime — on the street by glamorous movie stars like Martha Mansfield.
On the afternoon of April 8, 1918, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks decided to do their part in the fundraising and made their way to the Sub Treasury Building. Between 20,000 and 30,000 people turned out to see their antics, the largest crowd ever assembled on Wall Street up to that time.
Chaplin threw himself into the war effort, embarking on a nationwide tour to promote the sale of bonds. That year he would make a propaganda film called 'The Bond'. But there may have been a bit of self-promotion in his appearance at the Sub Treasury. His film 'A Dog’s Life' would conveniently open in movie theaters five days later.
People weren’t used to hearing their movie stars speak in 1918. “I never made a speech before in my life,” he proclaimed through a megaphone that noon, standing in front of the statue of George Washington. “But I believe I can make one now.”
Fairbanks — known for swashbucklers and romances — happily broke character, goofing around with Chaplin to the delight of the crowd. “Folks, I’m so hoarse from urging people to buy Liberty bonds that I can hardly speak.”