The district of Hernals stretches out along the canals of the Als River west of Vienna between the Wienerwald (Vienna Forest) and the Gürtel (a main street around inner Vienna). The Als is the second-longest stream (the longest is the Wien River) to flow from the Wienerwald into the Danube. The highest point, at 464 meters, is Heuberg. The original Vororte of Hernals, Dornbach, and Neuwaldegg were annexed in 1892 and form the heart of the 17th district. The houses in the central areas were built around the turn of the 19th–20th centuries during the Gründerzeit. Further out, the original farmer houses remain, often with gardens and villas added on. Farmland composes about 29.7% of the land area of the district, and transportation support buildings compose about 10.3% of the area. With about 59.6% of the area populated with greenery, Hernals is one of the greenest districts in Vienna, with 39.6% forest and 14% smaller gardens and meadows. Agriculture composes only 1.4% and plays little role today. The wineries have mostly retreated into the hills of Schafberg.
Archaeological digs place the first settlements in the Hernals district in the Neolithic Era, near the Als Stream, whose waters were teaming with fish. Digs from the Roman times reveal brickyards near today's Elterleinplatz. During the Middle Ages, the villages (Vororte) of Hernals (Township) and Dornbach were built along the Als, while Neuwaldegg was founded at the start of the Modern Era.
The founding of Hernals as the 17th district of Vienna came during the end of the 19th century. After the suburb cities (Vorstädte) of Vienna were annexed in 1850, discussions began in the 1870s to annex more of the surrounding areas. Although the areas were against such an annexation, Emperor Franz Joseph I declared in 1888 that it would be so. The decree took effect on January 1, 1892 and united Hernals, Dornbach, and Neuwaldegg together as the 17th district. At that time, the Hernals township was the most significant of the three and was the most populous township of Lower Austria beside Vienna.
In 1890, 74,657 people and 1,803 houses composed the newly-established district. District director Kretschek and the advisor of the Hernals township Sebastian Grünbeck re-established the St. Anna Chapel, the building of the Jörgerbad spa, the building of various schools, administration of the streets, and expansions of the Hernals cemetery. In 1894, the city wall was torn down and the rail lines were built. The Hernalser Market was moved to Zimmermannplatz.
After World War I, the social democrats initiated the municipal construction of housing estates (Gemeindebauten) in Hernals. In 1922, Karl Ehn built 164 new apartments in Balderichgasse. The largest Gemeindebau erected between the world wars in Hernals was completed in 1929 in Wattgasse, where 294 apartments were built. The expansion was halted due to financial pressures in the Austrian Government, and the number of community apartments remained below the Vienna average at 1,467.
As a largely proletarian district, Hernals became unstable after the Schattendorf Executions, and on July 15, 1927 the police attacked 158 people in Hernalser Haupstraße. Enraged protesters stormed the police station at Hernalser Hauptstraße 158 and set fire to the police equipment on the street. Two trees that had been damaged by the fire were later cared for as "revolutionary trees" but finally died in the mid-30s. The unrest escalated further on June 16 when five people lost their lives. However, the Austrian Civil War in February 1934 took place outside of Hernals only. With the prohibition of the social democrats, a new district government was installed.
|District Directors from 1945|
|Alois Brunner (KPÖ)||4/1945-1946|
|Leopold Pernerstorfer (SPÖ)||1946-1949|
|Karl Panek (SPÖ)||1949-1965|
|Josef Veleta (SPÖ)||1965-1979|
|Robert Pfleger (SPÖ)||1979-1997|
|Hans Mentschik (SPÖ)||1997-2002|
|Ilse Pfeffer (SPÖ)||2002-|
Hernals was governed by the Christian Social Party during the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. The former mayor of Hernals, Elterlein, became the first district director, and Karl Ketschek followed him in the years 1905 to 1919. During the first general vote, the Social Democrats garnered 58% of the vote, with the Christian socials (27%) and the Czechoslovakian Social Democrats following behind. These ratios remained steady until 1932, when the Czechs disappeared and the Christian socialists lost some of their power (fell to 17%). Anton Haidl, a social democrat, occupied the position as director from 1919 until 1934.
In the first vote in November 1945, the SPÖ gathered the majority of the vote (57%) and has continued to hold the director position up to today. The supremacy of the SPÖ melted during the 1990s as the FPÖ gained popularity. The SPÖ's 43% in 1991 shrank to 33.4% in 1996. The FPÖ had gathered an additional 6.27% to give them 28.46% of the vote, just barely trailing the SPÖ. The trend reversed itself in 2001: SPÖ had 39.90% and FPÖ had 20.81%. The ÖVP were only slightly behind at 19.54% and the Green party had 15.31%.
Only a few of the numerous industries and trades erected during the industrialisation of the district still remain. Agriculture, manufacturing, and light industry are among the survivors. Today, there are 350 to 400 firms located in Hernals, composed of 2,221 workplaces with 18,000 workers. Two-thirds are civil-service oriented industries, 23% in trade and industry and 8% in construction. Only about 120 people are still active in the once-prevalent agriculture (predominantly vineyards) industry. Almost half of all workplaces employ fewer than four people. The largest employer in Hernals is a chocolate factory Manner, which employs more than 500 people.