Monarchs who played a leading role in Austrian and world history include Rudolf I of Habsburg (1218–91), founder of the Habsburg dynasty and Holy Roman emperor from 1273; Maria Theresa (1717–80), who succeeded to the Habsburg dominions by means of the Pragmatic Sanction of 1740; her son Joseph II (1741–90), the "benevolent despot" who became Holy Roman emperor in 1765; Franz Josef (1830–1916), emperor of Austria at the outbreak of World War I; and his brother Maximilian (Ferdinand Maximilian Josef, 1832–1867), who became emperor of Mexico in 1864, ruling on behalf of Emperor Napoleon III of France, and was deposed and executed. Prince Klemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar von Metternich (1773–1859), Austrian foreign minister from 1809 to 1848, was the architect of the European balance of power established at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), born in Braunau, was dictator of Germany from 1933 until his death. Leading Austrian statesmen since World War II are Bruno Kreisky (1911–1990), Socialist Party chairman and chancellor of Austria from 1970 to 1983; and Kurt Waldheim (b.1918), Austrian diplomat and foreign minister, who was UN secretary-general from 1971 to 1981 and was elected to the presidency in June 1986.
Austria has produced many excellent artists, writers, and scientists but is probably most famous for its outstanding composers. Beginning in the 18th century and for 200 years, Vienna was the center of European musical culture. Among its great masters were Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–91), Franz Schubert (1797–1828), Anton Bruckner (1824–96), Gustav Mahler (1860–1911), Hugo Wolf (1860–1903), Arnold Schönberg (1874–1951), Anton von Webern (1883–1945), and Alban Berg (1885–1935). Although born in northwestern Germany, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) and Johannes Brahms (1833–97) settled in Vienna and spent the rest of their lives there. Composers of light music, typical of Austria, are Johann Strauss, Sr. (1804–49), Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825–99), Dalmatian-born Franz von Suppé (Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppe-Demelli, 1819–95), Hungarian-born Franz Lehár (1870–1948), and Oskar Straus (1870–1954). Outstanding musicians are the conductors Clemens Krauss (1893–1954), Karl Böhm (1894–1981), and Herbert von Karajan (b.1908); the pianists Artur Schnabel (1882–1951) and Alfred Brendel (b.1931); and the violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962).
Leading dramatists and poets include Franz Grillparzer (1791–1872), Nikolaus Lenau (1802–50), Ludwig Anzengruber (1839–81), and Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929). Novelists and short-story writers of interest are Adalbert Stifter (1805–68), Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830–1916), Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931), Hermann Bahr (1863–1934), Stefan Zweig (1881–1942), Robert Musil (1880–1942), Hermann Broch (1886–1952), Yakov Lind (b.1927), and Peter Handke (b.1942). Although born in Czechoslovakia, the satiric polemicist Karl Kraus (1874–1936), the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), the novelist and short-story writer Franz Kafka (1883–1924), and the poet and novelist Franz Werfel (1890–1946) are usually identified with Austrian literary life. Film directors of Austrian birth include Max Reinhardt (Maximilian Goldman, 1873–1943), Erich von Stroheim (Erich Oswald Stroheim, 1885–1957), Fritz Lang (1890–1976), Josef von Sternberg (1894–1969), Otto Preminger (1905–86), and Billy Wilder (b.1906). Internationally known performers born in Austria include Lotte Lenya (Karoline Blamauer, 1900–81) and Maximilian Schell (b.1930).
Two great architects of the Baroque period were Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656–1723) and Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt (1668–1745). Three prominent 20th-century painters were Gustav Klimt (1862–1918), Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980), and Egon Schiele (1890–1918).
Psychoanalysis was founded in Vienna by Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and extended by his Austrian colleagues Alfred Adler (1870–1937), Otto Rank (1884–1939), Theodor Reik (1888–1969), and Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957). Eugen Böhm-Bawerk (1851–1914) and Joseph Alois Schumpeter (1883–1950) were outstanding economists. A renowned geneticist was Gregor Johann Mendel (1822–84). Christian Johann Doppler (1803–53), a physicist and mathematician, described the wave phenomenon known today as the Doppler shift. Lise Meitner (1878–1968) was the physicist who first identified nuclear fission. Austrian Nobel Prize winners in physics are Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961), in 1933; Victor Franz Hess (1883–1964), authority on cosmic radiation, in 1936; and atomic theorist Wolfgang Pauli (1900–1958), discoverer of the exclusion principle, in 1945. Winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry are Fritz Pregl (1869–1930), who developed microanalysis, in 1923; Richard Zsigmondy (1865–1929), inventor of the ultramicroscope, in 1925; biochemist Richard Kuhn (1900–1967), a pioneer in vitamin research, in 1938; and biochemist Max Ferdinand Perutz (1914–2002) for research in blood chemistry, in 1962. Winners of the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine are otologist Robert Bárány (1876–1936), in 1914; psychiatrist Julius Wagner-Jauregg (1857–1940), for developing a treatment for general paresis, in 1927; Karl Landsteiner (1868–1943), discoverer of blood groups, in 1930; German-born pharmacologist Otto Loewi (1873–1961), for his study of nerve impulse transmission, in 1936; Carl Ferdinand Cori (1896–1984) and his wife, Gerti Theresa Radnitz Cori (1896–1957), whose work with enzymes led to new ways of fighting diabetes, in 1947; and Konrad Lorenz (1903–1989), discoverer of the "imprinting" process of learning, in 1973. In 1974, Friedrich August von Hayek (1899–1992), a noted monetary theorist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics.
The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Baroness Berta Kinsky von Suttner (b.Prague, 1843–1914), founder of the Austrian Society of Peace Lovers and author of Lay Down Your Arms!, in 1905; and to Alfred Hermann Fried (1864–1921), a prolific publicist for the cause of international peace, in 1911. One of the most influential philosophers of the contemporary age was Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889–1951). Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), the founder of anthroposophy, was an Austrian. Theodor Herzl (b.Budapest, 1860–1904), founder of the Zionist movement, was an early advocate of the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Simon Wiesenthal (b.Poland, 1908), a Nazi concentration-camp survivor, has searched for Nazi war criminals around the world.
Austrians have excelled in international Alpine skiing competition. In 1956, Toni Sailer (b.1935) won all three Olympic gold medals in men's Alpine skiing events. Annemarie Moser-Pröll (b.1953) retired in 1980 after winning a record six women's World Cups, a record 62 World Cup races in all, and the 1980 women's downhill skiing Olympic championship. Franz Klammer (b.1953), who won the 1976 men's downhill Olympic title, excited spectators with his aggressive style. Arnold Schwarzenegger (b.1947) was once the foremost bodybuilder in the world and becaome a succesful Hollywood actor.