Bernays, Edward L.


Bernays, Edward L.
born Nov. 22, 1891, Vienna, Austria
died March 9, 1995, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.

U.S. publicist, the "father of public relations.

" A nephew of Sigmund Freud, he was born in Austria but was brought up in New York. In organizing endorsements for a play on the taboo subject of venereal disease, he found his calling as a publicist. His early clients included the U.S. War Department and the Lithuanian government. He edited The Engineering of Consent (1955), whose title is his often-quoted definition of public relations. He died at the age of 103.

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▪ 1996

      U.S. publicist (b. Nov. 22, 1891, Vienna, Austria—d. March 9, 1995, Cambridge, Mass.), monitored, modified, and molded public opinion as the astute "father of public relations." He profoundly influenced the commercialization of American culture and shaped attitudes by relying on tradition, the testimony of experts, and the results of surveys to help endorse products. As the nephew of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, Bernays also recognized the importance of using psychology and drawing on the social sciences to influence the opinions of a particular audience. After graduating (1912) from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., with a degree in agriculture, Bernays soon abandoned the grain market and found his niche as a publicist. When the producer of the play Damaged Goods found that the taboo theme of venereal disease was limiting support for his production, Bernays secured endorsements from civic leaders, a move that ensured the play's success. He then worked as a propaganda agent for the U.S. government during World War I before opening his own office with his future wife, Doris Fleischman. He used his expertise to promote a wide range of products for such clients as General Electric, General Motors, Time, CBS, and NBC. For Procter & Gamble's Ivory soap, he sponsored children's soap-carving competitions; for Venida hairnets, he stressed the safety aspects for women who worked in factories near machinery and the sanitary aspects for women dealing with food in restaurants; and for the American Tobacco Co.'s Lucky Strike cigarettes, he helped gain acceptance for women to smoke in public. In later years, however, he opposed smoking and participated in antismoking campaigns. Bernays, whose counsel was sought even after he celebrated his 100th birthday, divulged his insights into public relations in more than a dozen books.

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▪ American publicist
born November 22, 1891, Vienna, Austria
died March 9, 1995, Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.

      pioneer American publicist who is generally considered to have been the first to develop the idea of the professional public relations counselor—i.e., one who draws on the social sciences in order to motivate and shape the response of a general or particular audience.

      Bernays was a year old when his parents moved to New York City from Austria, where his uncle, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (Freud, Sigmund), was beginning his work. His mother was Freud's sister, Anna, and his father was a successful grain merchant. After graduating from high school at age 16, Bernays attended Cornell University, where, to placate his father, he earned a degree in agriculture in 1912. He abandoned farm products after a brief obligatory sally into the grain market and found work editing a medical review. This brought to his attention a play, Damaged Goods, whose would-be producer found popular taboos against the subject—venereal disease—insuperable. Bernays organized a scheme to muster endorsements of the play by civic leaders, and, as a result, the play was produced successfully and Bernays found his true calling.

      After World War I, Bernays and Doris Fleischman (1891–1980), whom he later married, opened their own public relations office. Their first clients included the U.S. War Department, which wanted to persuade businesses to hire returning war veterans, and the Lithuanian government, which was lobbying for recognition by the United States. For one client, Venida hairnets, Bernays publicized the danger of women workers' wearing long, loose hair in factories and restaurants. As a result, several U.S. states passed laws requiring factory workers and female food-service employees to wear hairnets. He organized soap-carving competitions for the Ivory soap of his client Procter & Gamble.

      A vigorous spokesman and advocate for public relations into his 90s, Bernays was the author of many books, among the most influential of which were Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and Public Relations (1952). He edited The Engineering of Consent (1955), the title of which is his oft-quoted definition of public relations. See marketing.

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Universalium. 2010.

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