Outbreak of the war
End of the war
Sound propaganda in the First World War and a vocal portrait of Emperor Franz Joseph

During the First World War, the mental mobilisation of the population reached an unprecedented level. Propagandist actions included the production and distribution of sound recordings broadcasting the encouraging words of the emperor and leading generals in the Imperial-Royal Army.

Thomas Alva Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877 made it possible for the first time to record sounds on a cylinder covered with tin foil and then play them through a funnel-shaped horn. Ten years later Alexander Graham Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter brought the graphophone onto the market, which, as a further development of the phonograph, could already play recordings lasting four minutes. Simultaneously Emile Berliner developed the gramophone and the record disc, which was at first made of hard rubber and could play for ninety seconds. From 1897 onwards, shellac was used as substrate material for the discs, which soon surpassed phonograph cylinders in significance. The first shellac records had a playing time of four minutes, but this was doubled in 1904 with the introduction of double-sided discs.

This relatively new medium was exploited as well in the First World War, and records were produced playing speeches by political and military leaders. The Österreichische Mediathek owns a series of eight 78-rpm shellac discs sized 30 cm made by  Lindström and commissioned by the  k. k. Österreichischen Militär-, Witwen- und Waisenfonds (Imperial-Royal Austrian Military, Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund); their sale was to benefit those left bereft by the war and war victims. The recordings include short statements by the emperor, the Austrian heir apparent, and Chief of General Staff Freiherr (Baron) Conrad von Hötzendorf.

Many parts of the Austrian-Hungarian population had never before heard the voice of the emperor. With the speech recorded on disc on 14 December 1915 in which Franz Joseph expressed his heartfelt wishes to the k. k. Österreichischen Militär- Witwen- und Waisenfonds, the Kaiser was made acoustically present for all those who until then had known him merely from pictures. To quote the speech: “Ich begleite das Wirken des Österreichischen Militär- Witwen-, und Waisenfonds mit meinen herzlichsten Wünschen. Möge seinen edlen Bestrebungen zum Wohle der Hinterbliebenen meiner braven Krieger voller Erfolg beschieden werden.” (“I support the work of the des Österreichischen Militär- Witwen-, und Waisenfonds with my most heartfelt wishes. May its noble endeavours for the well-being of the bereaved of my brave soldiers be most successful”). The Österreichische Mediathek in all owns three sound recordings of Emperor Franz Joseph, the first made already in 1901, and the second two years later in Bad Ischl for the phonogram archive of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The December 1915 recording is the emperor’s only vocal portrait that was accessible to the population. The following information was written on the prestigious, art nouveau- inspired record cover: “Vorliegende Platte ist das einzige Stimmporträt Seiner kaiserlichen und königlichen apost. Majestät, welches der Öffentlichkeit übergeben wurde” (“This record disc is the only vocal portrait of His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty ever to be made accessible to the public”).

Translation: Abigail Prohaska


Rühr, Sandra: Tondokumente von der Walze zum Hörbuch. Geschichte – Medienspezifik – Rezeption, Göttingen 2008

Alle Informationen zu den im Besitz der Mediathek befindlichen Tondokumenten entstammen der Website der Österreichischen Mediathek. (22.03.2014)

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    Guiding the masses

    Guiding the mood of the masses was an important aspect of warfare during the First World War. Considerable information and communication work was carried out to persuade the population of the “true facts”. All areas of life were influenced by propaganda in a way that had not been seen hitherto: reports in the newspapers, posters on the walls, even teaching material in schools now communicated controlled information. What methods and media were used? How did the various warring nations attempt to influence public opinion? What was communicated and how effective was the propaganda?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object


    All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930. It was the film of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name about the experiences of a soldier during the First World War. Remarque’s book and the film adaptation are classic anti-war statements. Alongside the patriotic, glorified heroic epics and “authentic” documentation of service for the fatherland, this was just one way in which the First World War was portrayed in literature and films – a medium that had come into being only twenty years before the outbreak of war.

  • Object

    Monitoring & control

    Everyday life in the Habsburg Monarchy was characterised by propaganda, monitoring and control, as can be seen by the many blank spaces in the daily newspapers and deletions in private correspondence and telegrams. At the same time an attempt was made in texts and audio-visual media to whip up general enthusiasm for the war. Not even the youngest inhabitants of the empire remained untouched, and the influence of the state was also felt in the schools of the Monarchy.

  • Person

    Franz Joseph

    Thanks to his long reign of 68 years, Franz Joseph was a determining figure of the Habsburg Empire in the last decades of its existence. In 1914, he signed the declaration of war on Serbia that triggered the First World War – a war that he would not live to see the end of.