The single-sheet printed items of the broadside collection were created to disseminate news, announce legislation, recruit and instruct troops, celebrate great events or sway public opinion. Often quickly and cheaply produced, broadsides were typically considered ephemeral items to be discarded after their original use. The collection includes several rare survivals, such as official acts and proclamations issued by the individual states and the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War, as well as general orders of the Continental forces. French and British examples include royal ordinances and proclamations relating to military and naval preparations, charts of the military establishments, diagrams of the manual exercise, and naval sailing and fighting signals.

The enduring influence of the Revolution is documented in broadsides celebrating the anniversaries of wartime events, some published well into the nineteenth century. Revolutionary War veterans published poignant accounts of their post-war hardships in support of their petitions to Congress for relief.

Other examples document the effect of the War of 1812 on the memory of the Revolution as well as political divisions among Revolutionary War veterans in the early nineteenth century. Poetry and songs were often circulated in broadside form, and the Institute’s collections include several entertaining examples with military and naval themes.