Ernst Litfaß

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Ernst Amandus Theodor Litfaß (or Litfass; German pronunciation: [ˈlɪtfas]), (February 11, 1816 – December 27, 1874) was a German printer and publisher. His claim to fame rests on the invention of the free-standing cylindrical advertising column which bears his name in German language (Litfaßsäule).

His grave in Berlin

Biography[edit]

Born in Berlin, Litfaß took over his stepfather's business in 1845 and became the editor of a number of newspapers and pamphlets. As publisher, he completed, in 1858, the edition of the Oekonomische Encyklopädie (in 242 volumes), which had been started by Johann Georg Krünitz in 1773.

In 1854 Litfaß proposed putting up columns in the streets of Berlin for announcement and advertising purposes. Allegedly, he was disgusted by the unsystematic and ubiquitous posting of pamphlets, notices and other materials on walls, doors, fences and trees. In December of that year he was granted permission to erect such Annoncier-Säulen columns, and on July 1, 1855, the first 100 Litfaß-Säulen were presented in Berlin.

Litfaß had a monopoly on his advertising columns and grew rich fast. After his death in Wiesbaden in 1874, the idea of putting up Litfaßsäulen (Litfaß columns or Litfaß pillars) quickly spread to other German cities. Today, they can be found in other countries as well.

A Litfaßsäule in Vienna, Austria. The advertisements are for concerts with Ton Koopman and Kurt Masur respectively; at the bottom there is the weekly programme of the theatres of Vienna.

Later developments include the electrically powered slowly revolving Litfaß column; Litfaß columns that serve as vents for underground services; and the Litfaß column with a hidden door whose interior is used for storage purposes (tools for street sweeping, electrical appliances, etc.)

Cultural references[edit]

  • In the movie The Third Man, Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles) uses one of these columns as an escape route to the sewer system under Vienna.

Note on the spelling[edit]

Litfaß is a proper name and thus not affected by the German spelling reform although the a in Litfaß is a short vowel and the following ß would otherwise have to be turned into an ss. Accordingly, Litfaß is still correct, while Litfass is acceptable in non-German contexts.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]