Edward Bernays: The Father of Public Relations and Master of Manipulation


Aaron M Farrar

9/5/20234 min read

Edward Bernays: The Father of Public Relations and Master of Manipulation

Edward Bernays, often hailed as the "Father of Public Relations," was a pivotal figure in the 20th century whose influence still permeates our daily lives. Born on November 22, 1891, and passing away in 1995, Bernays left an indelible mark on the world of advertising, marketing, and public opinion. His groundbreaking work, particularly his 1928 book 'Propaganda,' showcased his profound insights into shaping public perceptions and his ability to orchestrate societal change. In this article, we will delve into who Edward Bernays was, why he was an important historical figure, his notable accomplishments, and his intriguing relationship with the renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

The Man Behind the Curtain

Edward Bernays was born in Vienna, Austria, and later emigrated to the United States with his family. He was a nephew of Sigmund Freud, a connection that would greatly influence his career. Bernays studied agriculture at Cornell University but eventually shifted his focus to public relations and psychology. It was his blend of Freudian psychology and marketing that set him apart in the world of public relations.

Bernays' Work in Propaganda

Edward Bernays' most famous work, 'Propaganda,' published in 1928, is a cornerstone of his career and has significantly shaped modern public relations. In this book, he explored the art of shaping public opinion and the manipulation of the masses. One of his key quotes from 'Propaganda' illustrates his approach: "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society."

Bernays argued that public relations professionals should influence public behavior by appealing to people's emotions, desires, and unconscious desires, rather than merely presenting factual information. This approach, which he termed "engineering consent," laid the groundwork for modern advertising and political campaign strategies.

Achievements and Influence

1. Torches of Freedom: One of Edward Bernays' most notable accomplishments was the "Torches of Freedom" campaign in 1929. Commissioned by the American Tobacco Company, this campaign aimed to break the social taboo against women smoking in public. Bernays brilliantly linked smoking to women's liberation and feminism, portraying it as a symbol of women asserting their independence. This marketing coup not only increased cigarette sales but also helped to redefine societal norms.

2. Bacon and Eggs: In the 1920s, Bernays also contributed to popularizing bacon and eggs as a quintessential American breakfast. Leveraging his influence and connections, he convinced doctors to endorse this hearty breakfast, touting it as a healthy start to the day. The campaign boosted the sales of bacon and eggs and has had a lasting impact on breakfast habits.

3. United Fruit Company: Bernays was also involved in shaping public opinion in favor of the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Brands International). He used his persuasive techniques to justify the company's interests in Central America, even orchestrating a coup in Guatemala in 1954 to protect the firm's investments.

Edward Bernays played a significant but indirect role in the campaign to fluoridate municipal water supplies in the United States. His influence was not as central as in some of his other campaigns, but his expertise in public relations and persuasion tactics was utilized by organizations and individuals advocating for water fluoridation.

Water fluoridation, the process of adding fluoride compounds to public water supplies to prevent tooth decay, became a controversial issue in the mid-20th century. Some communities and health officials supported it as a public health measure, while others were skeptical or opposed to what they saw as a form of government intervention.

Bernays' involvement can be traced to his work with the American Dental Association (ADA) and his connections within the public health community. The ADA, recognizing the importance of public perception in advancing the cause of water fluoridation, sought Bernays' counsel to help navigate the public relations aspect of the campaign.

Here are some ways in which Edward Bernays contributed to the campaign for water fluoridation:

1. Framing the Issue: Bernays helped frame the debate in a way that emphasized the benefits of water fluoridation for dental health while downplaying potential concerns. He emphasized the preventive aspect and positioned it as a sensible, modern solution to a common health problem.

2. Leveraging Scientific Authority: Bernays understood the power of expert endorsements. He worked to secure support from respected scientists, dentists, and public health officials who could speak in favor of water fluoridation. These endorsements carried weight in the public's perception of the issue.

3. Media Campaigns: Bernays used his expertise in media relations to ensure that the pro-fluoridation message was disseminated widely. He crafted press releases, articles, and statements that presented water fluoridation as a safe and effective practice.

4. Addressing Opposition: Bernays also worked on strategies to counter opposition to water fluoridation. This included providing persuasive responses to critics and framing their concerns as unfounded or based on misinformation.

Bernays and Freud: A Unique Connection

Edward Bernays' relationship with his uncle, Sigmund Freud, had a profound influence on his work. He applied Freud's ideas about the unconscious mind, desires, and motivations to the field of public relations. Bernays once stated, "My own work in public relations has taught me that those who manipulate the organized habits and opinions of the masses constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country."


Edward Bernays was a master of manipulation and public relations, using psychological insights and creative strategies to influence public opinion and behavior. His book 'Propaganda' remains a foundational text in the field of public relations. Bernays' ability to shape societal norms and beliefs through advertising and persuasion continues to impact the world today. His accomplishments, both well-known and lesser-known, showcase his enduring legacy as a historical figure who shaped the way we perceive and interact with the world.