Public Relations History Timeline


Public Relations History

Public relations has existed for many thousands of years and the Greek have the word semantics for it.  This means semantics, which is defined as “how to get people to believe things and to do things” (Cutlip 21). Its foundations are ancient as they are rooted in some of the earliest interactions that people had in past societies. Also, public relations is contemporary because it seems to emerge as a profession in modern society. For a long time in history, public relations continue to be part and parcel of a society that has been separated by centuries and miles. Throughout time, many different social and cultural contexts have practiced public relations. When looking at human social interactions, there are elements of various forms of public relations, such as cooperation, reconciliation, persuasion, and information (Cutlip 34).

Public Relations in Ancient Civilizations

One of the advisors of an Egyptian Pharaoh in the ancient times known as Ptah-Hotep in the year 2200 BCE wrote about public relations. He claimed that there was a need for addressing the interests of audiences and communicating truthfully. Furthermore, a person had to act in a consistent manner with regards to what was being talked about. In fact, some archeologists found several ancient brochures and bulletins in the ancient Mesopotamia, which dates back to 1800 BCE. The publications were on stone tablets and they showed farmers how to increase harvests, irrigate fields and sow crops.

In the year 50 B.C. Julius Caesar, wrote his campaign’s biography known as Caesar’s Gallic. He effectively publicized the exploits of his military in order to convince the Romans that he would be a suitable leader. Other candidates who wanted the same position also publicized themselves using accounts and biographies of the day’s military exploits (Lattimore & Baskin & Heiman & Toth 59).

St. Augustine is another person who engaged in public relations during the year 394 A.D. He was a rhetoric professor based in the Western Roman Empire capital in Milan. People believe that he was a propaganda minister working in the imperial court. Furthermore, he was close to the emperor and kept on providing eulogies to him and thus the reason why he was a pioneer in public relations. St. Augustine’s role is today the equivalent of a communications director or the press secretary of the president. Thomas Paine wrote a pamphlet titled ‘The Crisis’ in the year 1776. It was meant to convince soldiers in the Washington army to fight on despite the challenges they faced. He was professional in writing propaganda that motivated people to do things with confidence (Lattimore & Baskin & Heiman & Toth 62).

Ivy Lee’s Role in Public Relations

Benjamin Franklin ensured that he had his own assertions that would not contradict others. He often claimed that “I imagine”, “I apprehend” or “I conceive” (Lattimore & Baskin & Heiman & Toth 77). He thus came up with some of the rules that were used regarding public relations. During his era, there were no mass media and it was thus quite impossible to have a profession known as public relations. It is in the year 1903 that public relations were recognized as a profession. At the time, Ivy Lee had the responsibility of advising John Rockefeller on how public relations should be conducted. Rockefeller owned the Pennsylvania Railroad and many coal mines. His miners went on strike and many accidents occurred because the railroad was not in perfect condition.

Lee became a pioneer in modern public relations at this point because he advised Rockefeller on what to do. He advised him to go to the coal mines so that he could talk with the striking miners. Rockefeller listened to the various complaints that the miners had and took drastic action. He ensured that the miners would be well taken care of and the miners were quite happy with him. This shows that Lee used public relations in order to improve the lives of others after convincing those in charge of them to change their actions. Thereafter, Lee called reporters to inspect the railroads as well as obtain all the right facts concerning what had taken place. This means that favorable press coverage was given to the Pennsylvania Railroad incident.

Public relations was professionalized by Lee while focusing on three key principles. They were that a public relations director is mandated to always have access to the management. The director should be able to have an influence on decision making (Lasswell 12). Also, accurate facts must always be provided as well as the truth. Lee was able to define public relations when he said that “public relations mean the actual relationship of the company to the people and that relationship involves more than talk. The company must act by performing good deeds”.

Edward Bernay’s Role in Public Relations

Another step in public relations towards achieving professionalism was achieved in 1918 through the efforts of Edward Bernays. He was in charge of providing advice to the president of Czechoslovakia. He wanted the new president to announce that Monday would be the day of independence as opposed to Sunday. On a Monday, the president would get the most press coverage as opposed to any other day. This shows that Bernays had exceptional skills that assisted all those who he worked for. ‘Crystallizing Public Opinion’ was published by Bernays in the year 1923.

In the publication, he came up with many principles regarding public relations. He believed that there were several functions which public relations had. They were to promote the client by interpreting the clients’ information to the public. Secondly, to ensure that the public is well known by the client through operating a company in a way that ensures that it gains the public’s approval (Tye 80).

It is evident that Lee and Bernays wanted to stress the idea concerning why the corporate world needs to be involved in social responsibility. It is no wonder that Bernays never accepted to work for clients who were unethical. He also came up with a concept that the world has numerous individuals and they all have to be appealed to. Furthermore, he went on to advise professionals in the public relations sector that they had to attract the attention of key communication and group leaders (Tye 95).

This would ensure that they effectively pass all their ideas to individuals in the public. Some of Bernay’s other key concepts were that public relations must build consciously. Also, it had to promote progress and new ideas as well as public service. Bernays decided to ensure that he put all his ideas into practice especially when he dealt with clients, such as Columbian Rope Company and Proctor and Gamble.

Proctor and Gamble came up with a unique radio commercial that was deemed as being offensive by the African-Americans. He thus took some steps that helped solve the problem at hand. He first changed the existing commercial and ensured that many African-Americans got good jobs in the company. Thereafter, he invited some African Americans to take a tour of the company’s plant. Lastly, he ensured that the newsletter featured quite a number of African- Americans. With regards to the Columbian Rope Company, he made some tremendous changes at the company, which had an image that was against unions.

He introduced a radio program that had management and union panelists. Secondly, he urged the company to engage in bargaining talks with the union. Thirdly, he made sure that people took tours in the plant and was even successful in making the company have a sponsored vocational program. This shows that Bernays had a commitment to all members in the society regardless of their race or even status. The father of public relations is truly Edwards Bernays and the world’s first public relations counselor was Ivy Lee (Lattimore & Baskin & Heiman & Toth 105).

Walter Lippmann’s Role in Public Relations

Walter Lippmann is a known 20th-century figure in the history of the United States. The influence of his ideas led to a lot of public opinions among Americans. Many critics of Lippmann claim that his contribution to public relations is usually overlooked. He can thus not be compared to other key figures such as Edward Barneys and Ivy Lee. Lippmann was not able to implement any of the public campaigns that he participated in. When viewing his political theory, it is revealed that the view he had of society emphasized that it is important for a government to be involved in communication management (Cameron & Wilcox & Reber & Shin 60).

Lippmann even provided a working rationale that played a significant role in shaping the practice of public relations development. This means that organizations have the ability to control the hegemonic practice of the public. His perspective on public relations was transferred to a broader field of communication as part of his paradigm in public relations studies.

Experts in the field of public relations believe that the book ‘Public Opinion’ by Lippmann has still remained relevant up to date.  Additionally, his most important contribution to public relations is best explained using the spirit or the ethos of the profession. He emphasized on the fact that governments must control the thoughts of the public. Lippmann went on to position the fact that organizations should know about the practice of public relations. His ideas were perfect examples of communication management that helped eliminate disunity and conflict in the community.

It should be known that the concept provided by him is not in any way exclusive to the strategic focus of persuasive communication (Petersen 250). Lippmann believed that the government should be informed on some concepts such as segmentation of public, message design, as well as research on media and audiences.  However, he focused most of his attention on political matters as opposed to public relations issues.

In the year 1900, people in the public relations profession began being paid for their services. The Publicity Bureau is the world’s first public relations agency and the founders were Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee. The two are the founders of public relations as they enabled the profession in America. The end of the world war marked the era when the profession became quite established in what is known as war-time publicity. It should be known that some of the most famous and established public relations agencies had their origins in the 1950s. Later on, in the 1970s and 1960s other agencies were founded in Asia and Europe.

In the modern era of public relations, there has been explosive growth as it has been witnessed all over the world (Newsom &Turk & Kruckeberg 58). Social media and internet technologies have changed the tactics being used in public relations. Currently, there are new specialties and consolidated agencies that have been introduced and they include community relations as well as investor relations. It is quite interesting to know that the four founders of this profession laid the groundwork for other people to join public relations.


In conclusion, there has been a historical development in the field of public relations since ancient civilization up to date. Bernays and Lee proved that their success was quite vital as they made the public and other stakeholders form meaningful relations. The fact that the two professionals decided only to work with people who are ethical displays something about their characters and the values they uphold. It proves that this profession seeks to promote positive elements in society.  Also, Lippmann should be applauded for his role in enhancing the theory of public relations as seen in the books ‘The Phantom Public’ and ‘Public Opinion’. Indeed public relation is a profession that has many intriguing facets that affect the public in a positive way. Therefore, more needs to be done to ensure that organizations and governments, as well as other stakeholders,  have extensive public relations campaigns.


Work Cited

Tye, L. The father of the spin: Edward Bernays and the birth of public relations. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2002, Print.

Petersen, J. Lippmann revisited: A comment 80 years subsequent to ‘Public Opinion’. Journalism, 4, 2 (2003): 249-259.

Newsom, D. &Turk, J. & Kruckeberg, D. This is PR. The realities of public relations. Boston: Wadsworth, 2010, Print.

Lattimore, D. & Baskin, O. & Heiman, S. & Toth, E. Public relations: The practice and the profession. New York: Mc Graw-Hill, 2009.Print.

Cameron, G. & Wilcox, D. & Reber, B. & Shin, J. Public relations today: Managing competition and conflict. New York: Allyn & Bacon, 2008, Print.

Cutlip, Scott. Public Relations History: From the 17th to the 20th Century. The antecedents. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1995. Print.

Lasswell, H. Propaganda technique in the World War. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1927.Print.


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