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Bernays, Edward L.


BERNAYS, EDWARD L. (1891–1995), U.S. public relations executive. Born in Vienna, a nephew of Sigmund *Freud, Bernays is regarded by many as the "father" of public relations. His efforts helped popularize Freud's theories in the United States. He also was responsible for molding public opinion on a variety of cultural issues in the United States in the 20th century. He was public relations adviser for the Ballet Russe of Sergei Diaghilev, the Metropolitan Opera, Enrico Caruso, Procter and Gamble, President Calvin Coolidge, Henry Ford, Conde Nast Publications, David *Sarnoff, William *Paley, Clare Booth Luce, Samuel *Goldwyn, Mack Trucks, United Fruit (bananas), American Tobacco, United Brewers Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, General Electric, General Motors, Westinghouse Electric, and Columbia University. His mother, Anna (Freud) Bernays, was Sigmund Freud's sister. His first cousin was Sigmund's daughter, Anna *Freud, the renowned child psychologist, and his daughter, Anne *Bernays, was a novelist and the wife of Justin Kaplan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and biographer of Walt Whitman.

Bernays was raised in New York City from the age of one. He attended public schools and graduated from Cornell University's College of Agriculture in 1912. After World War i (Bernays volunteered to aid the American effort, working in President Woodrow Wilson's Office of War Information), he and his future wife opened an office to promote various clients and causes. Some of his efforts became legendary. To promote Ivory soap and make bathing more popular with children, he set up a national small-sculpture panel that for years oversaw soap-carving competitions. He enlisted "third party authorities" to plead for his clients' causes: to promote the sale of bacon, he conducted a survey of physicians and reported their recommendations that people eat hearty breakfasts, including bacon and eggs.

In the early 1920s, Bernays arranged for the American publication of Freud's General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. Bernays used his association with his uncle to establish his own reputation as a thinker and theorist. He wrote several landmark texts, notably Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923), Propaganda (1928), and "The Engineering of Consent" in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (1947).

Several of his social ideas have had long-lasting effects. He helped make it acceptable for women to smoke in public, sponsoring demonstrations in which debutantes gathered on street corners to light up "torches of freedom." In his later years, Bernays was a public opponent of smoking and took part in antismoking campaigns.

In his autobiography, Biography of an Idea, in 1965, Bernays recalled a dinner at his home in 1933 where Karl von Weigand, foreign correspondent of the Hearst newspapers, was talking about Joseph *Goebbels and his propaganda plans to consolidate Nazi power. "Goebbels had shown Weigand his propaganda library," Bernays wrote. "Goebbels, said Weigand, was using my book Crystallizing Public Opinion as a basis for his destructive campaign against the Jews of Germany. This shocked me … Obviously the attack on the Jews of Germany was no emotional outburst of the Nazis, but a deliberate, planned campaign."

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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