Edwards Bernays is often referred to as the “father of modern public relations” with good reason. A nephew of the father of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, Bernays was also an observer of human behavior. He understood early on that words and images could be used to persuade attitudes, publishing landmark books on PR including “Crystallizing Public Opinion” in 1923 and “Propaganda” in 1928. In 1923 at New York University, Bernays taught the very first public relations course. He planned and staged numerous events and campaigns on behalf of a wide variety of clients, and worked with several 20th century presidents from Calvin Coolidge to Ronald Reagan.
A chance meeting became a 10-year friendship between Edward Bernays and Shelley Zuckerman Spector, an award-winning public relations executive and faculty member at Baruch College. Professor Spector documented Bernays’ career through a series of videotaped interviews she conducted at his home. When Bernays died in 1995 at age 103, she gathered and preserved many of his books and artifacts. Her devotion to PR history led to the creation of the Museum of Public Relations in 1997, which found a new home just six months ago at the Baruch College library in Manhattan. The museum contains historical items from Bernays and the PR field’s most important pioneers and campaigns.
Twenty Hofstra students and I experienced the Museum of Public Relations last Friday and I urge all students and practitioners of PR to visit. Hearing and seeing Bernays talk about his life, touching artifacts from communication history (newspapers from the early 19th century, a telegraph, an Edison phonograph cylinder, a turn-of the century telephone and typewriter, books by PR trailblazer Ivy Lee, and much more) made PR’s past come alive for these 21st century students. Oohs, ahhs and wows filled the room as students touched and felt history in their hands.
Kudos to Shelley Spector for her labor of love. She’s preserving a one-of-a-kind time capsule that will ensure PR’s history endures. See the PR museum when you can. Learning history is the best way to learn about the future. Your thoughts?