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Edward Bernays easily comes out as the father of Public Relations, thanks to his immense contributions to this field. Life Magazine even named him among the top 100 influential people of the 20th century, attracting the attention of Larry Tye who wrote a full-length biography on him called The Father of Spin. He was also the subject of an award-winning documentary by BBC’s Adam Curtis titled The Century of the Self. He is a renowned champion of women’s rights, having participated in 1929 campaigns seeking to pave way for women to smoke by labeling cigarettes as feminists under the phrase Torches of Freedom. Among his notable works include Propaganda, Public Relations, Crystalizing Public Opinion, and The Engineering of Consent.
Personal life and education
Edward Louis Bernays was born on November 22, 1891, to a Jewish family, the son of Ely and Anna Bernays and nephew to Sigmund Freud. The propagandist family moved to the United States in the 1890s where his father begun working as a grain exporter at the Manhattan Produce Exchange.
When the family relocated to New York City in 1892, Bernays started his education at DeWitt Clinton High School. He would, later on, proceed to Cornell University and graduated with a degree in agriculture but settled for journalism as his first career.
In 1922, he married Doris E. Fleischman, who remained adamant that she would keep her last name. Her husband sanctioned and touted this fact. Doris is known to have become the first married woman to receive an American passport without her husband’s name on it. The staunch member of Lucy Stone League, later on, changed her mind and adopted the name Doris Bernays. She was always the background voice in many writings by Bernays, even ghost-writing a couple of speeches and memos.
Edward Bernays was instrumental in World War I, working with the Committee on Public Information to provide what Bernays described as “Psychological warfare”.
He also worked with reputable corporate clients, including the American Tobacco Company, Best Foods, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, CBS, and many other top-notch brands. Bernays extrapolated Sigmund Freud’s ideas to convince the masses that bacon and egg were a true American breakfast.
The propagandist also worked with innumerable political clients and non-profit clients.
His most reputable book, Propaganda, continues to impact modern-day marketing strategies for businesses and politicians alike. This book provided Bernays with a platform to express most of his views about the manipulation of the organized masses, terming propaganda as an important element in a democratic society. Throughout the book, the author explains how the opinions of the masses can easily be swayed through conscious and intelligent manipulation.
Crystallizing Public Opinion was another important work by the author, which he claimed Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda strategist, tried to use to consolidate Nazi power. Goebbels would use it as the motivational factor in a destructive campaign against the German Jews. Sad as that may be, the author notes that the actions of the Nazis were a clear demonstration of how organized habits and opinions can sway the public.
Bernays often drew inspiration from the like of Gustave Le Bon, his uncle Sigmund Freud, and many other notable figures.