Top of page

Housing the Edward L. Bernays Scrapbooks in the Manuscript Division

Share this post:

The following is a guest post by Preservation Specialist Leslie Long. Leslie enjoys paper marbling and performing in the Library Chorale!

The box making activities of the Conservation Division at the Library of Congress allow quick and efficient housing of vulnerable collections items to help avoid further damage and loss. A great example of this work is a recent project to house the scrapbooks in the Edward L. Bernays Papers in the Manuscript Division.

The side of a blue corrugated box with a white label showing the Library of Congress logo and the title and information for the Bernays papers.
The Edward L. Bernays papers at the Library of Congress. Photo by Leslie Long.

Public relations and propaganda pioneer Edward Bernays (1891-1995) was born to Anna and Eli Bernays. Anna was Sigmund Freud’s sister and Eli was the brother of Freud’s wife, Martha. Born in Vienna, Austria in 1891, Edward Bernays was an infant when he immigrated to New York City with his parents in 1892. He grew up in the Bronx and graduated from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture in 1912 so he could work as a grain merchant like his father.  Instead, he wrote for National Nurseryman, a journal for growers of trees and shrubs.

He went on to work for the New York Produce Exchange, and then for the Louis Dreyfus Company, a merchant for agricultural goods. Through a contact with an old school friend, he got a job as editor of the Medical Review of Reviews and Dietetic and Hygienic Gazette, a publication that included expert opinions about health issues that was distributed free to physicians in the United States. While working there from 1912 to 1915, he published a favorable review of Damaged Goods, an English translation of Les Avariés by Eugène Brieux. Bernays’ positive review of this controversial play that dealt with venereal disease won him friends in the theater world.

His new connections in the theatre led to the next career for Bernays as a press agent for theater performers including Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso and the Ballets Russes, an influential French ballet company founded by Sergei Diaghilev that performed in Europe from 1909 to 1929.

During World War I (1914-1918), Bernays worked on the Committee for Public Information (CPI) to popularize the war, persuading musicians to include positive songs about military service in their repertoire and enlisting companies to distribute literature about U.S. war aims abroad. He attended the Paris Peace Conference as a CPI employee, writing later that “Paris became a training school without instructors in the study of public opinion.” After the war, he used the powers of persuasion that he had learned in the CPI in New York as Public Relations Counsel, a title he invented for himself.

Left to right, a woman and two men stand next to each other.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Frank Calderone, and Edward Bernays standing together. Photo by Blinn, Harris and Ewing Photographic News Service, 1941.

His first efforts in his new profession were to convert women to smoking on behalf of the American Tobacco Company by portraying cigarettes as slimming, elegant and symbols of emancipation or “torches of freedom.” On behalf of the Beachnut Packing Company, he convinced the public that big breakfasts including bacon were healthy by persuading influential physicians to endorse the “hearty” breakfast. Campaigns for hair nets, big suitcases, soap sculptures, and many other products followed.

Bernays wrote books about his business including Crystalizing Public Opinion (1923) and Propaganda (1928) in which he described the work of “invisible wirepullers” in a new profession he was inventing called public relations.

He married Doris Fleischman, a noted feminist, writer, and activist, in 1922. One of their children is the writer Anne Bernays whose works include the novels Growing Up Rich (1975), Professor Romeo (1989), and Trophy House (2005).

Bernays left his papers to the Library of Congress, and they entered the Manuscript Division in 1996. The collection includes eight hundred boxes of personal and business papers. In the words of biographer Larry Tye in The Father of Spin, “Bernays saved every scrap of paper he sent out or took in, and provided for them to be made public after his death. In so doing, he let us see just how policies were made and how, in many cases, they were founded on deception.”

An empty blue corrugated clamshell with an item next to it, wrapped.
A wrapped Bernays scrapbook next to its new housing enclosure. Photo by Leslie Long.

The whole Edward L. Bernays collection contains 227,000 items, including 238 scrapbooks representing the years 1918 through 1956. The contents include articles, invitations, press releases, pamphlets, awards and newspaper clippings about clients such as the Philco Radio and Television Corporation, the American Tobacco Company, Proctor and Gamble, General Electric and Ivory Soap.

The scrapbooks are important research tools, but they are difficult for staff to serve and for researchers to use because of their size and fragility. I began housing them in March 2021 in cooperation with Manuscript Division Archives Specialist and Collections Officer Chelsea Fairley. We were able to meet for about an hour once a week to place scrapbooks in their new custom-made boxes and to measure the next group of scrapbooks to be housed. Chelsea asked me to take several side trips from the Bernays project to house other collection materials in process including scrapbooks from the Daniel J. Boorstin Papers (1882-1995), the National Woman’s Movement Collection, and items from the Karle Papers.

The large Bernays scrapbooks are filled with fragile pages that leave a trail of paper flakes behind them whenever they are taken from the shelf to the Manuscript Division reading room for researchers. Many of the clippings have become detached and are in danger of falling out of the scrapbooks as they are carried about. Housing them in custom-made boxes made of corrugated board keeps the contents of each scrapbook together and relatively undamaged.

A wooden measuring tool used for measuring books for boxes. A white sheet of paper for writing measurements.
The MeasurePhase tool used for box-making in GCCS. Photo by Leslie Long.

I took measurements of groups of scrapbooks in the Manuscript Division using our mobile measuring device, the MeasurePhase, and recorded the measurements in pencil on a paper form. Spine measurements of the Bernays scrapbooks range from 7 millimeters to 103 millimeters thick with most being in the 30-60 millimeter range. The scrapbook widths tend to be in the 250-350 millimeter range, with heights mostly between 350-430 millimeters.

An automated box making machine, with a computer on the right hand side displaying the program and a table on the left hand side showing cut boxes.
The automated box-making machine at work. Photo by Leslie Long.

When making boxes, I enter the measurements into the boxmaker’s database, and the computer screen displays an image of the box on the virtual “dieboard” that represents the dimensions of the 48 inch x 65 inch gray corrugated board used to make the boxes. Most of the Bernays boxes fit two on a board. Many of the slim scrapbooks are sturdy enough to be housed in four-flap enclosures made of lighter weight tan 20-point cardstock to protect them from getting soiled or scratched by their messy neighbors on the shelf. The 20-point sheets measure 40 inches by 60 inches.

Once boxes are arranged on the virtual dieboard, a staff member places the board on the bed of the machine and runs the boxes. The machine makes all the creases first, then all the cuts. We test the blade and creaser depths at the beginning of each boxing shift to be sure that the creases and cuts will be deep enough to cut and crease the box, but not deep enough to damage the box machine’s protective mat.

Each General Collections Conservation Section (GCCS) staff member is a liaison to specific divisions and reading rooms. Each staff member works a four-hour shift in the box room each week making boxes to fulfill liaison duties and for the general collections books that are routed to us by the Collection Management Division (CMD) including artist books, children’s books accompanied by toys, books too fragile to repair and books with more than one part that must be kept together.

The thousands of boxes made by Conservation Division staff each year represent a significant part of its care of many of the library’s most vulnerable items, preserving them for future enquiry.

Subscribe to the blog— it’s free! — learn how the largest library in the world preserves the coolest stuff in the world.


Comments (4)

  1. I’ve read about Edward Bernays and found him to be fascinating. His contributions to the field of modern advertising are so interesting—for instance, naming “breakfast” as the most important meal of the day—to increase the sale of bacon in the early 1930s. Thanks so much for this post about his papers. I’d enjoy reading some to know more about his life! Thank you!!

    • We are so glad you enjoyed the post! For more resources on Edward Bernays, check out several published works in the Library’s online catalog, or use our Ask a Librarian tool to contact the Manuscripts Division!

  2. Is it known where Edward and his family lived in Vienna?

    • Thank you for reading! Our research has not garnered anything more specific than his family living in Vienna, but please feel free to use our Ask a Librarian tool if you would like to conduct further research!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *