Revising the narrative of early U.S. public relations history
Myers, Marcus Cayce
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This dissertation challenges current historical narratives about early public relations practice in the United States from 1770 to 1918. Histories of U.S. PR typically argue that American public relations began with low-level press agentry and rose to a professional form in twentieth century corporate America. This narrative incorrectly portrays public relations history as corporate, evolutionary and rooted in the unprofessional practices of press agentry. This dissertation challenges this popular account of U.S. public relations history. More than 3,200 articles that described public relations in the American popular press from 1770 to 1918 were analyzed to create a revised narrative of PR history. Specific attention was paid to the meaning of the term public relations, propaganda, press agentry, publicity agent, and publicity bureau. Analysis shows that public relations practice was used in government, politics, at the grassroots, and in corporations. This dissertation argues that U.S. public relations was not a twentieth century creation, PR history is not an evolutionary process, and that non-corporate spheres influenced PR relations practice. From this analysis a new narrative of public relations history is presented.