Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Ben Austrian attended school in his hometown until he started working as a traveling representative for his father's business, a job that allowed him to visit museums in New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and St. Louis. When his father died in 1897, he took over the family business but soon sold it, gave the profits to his mother, and pursued a career as a painter. He quickly became very successful, and one of his first paintings, Coal Black Lady, was acquired by the Philadelphia department store magnate John Wannamaker for his personal collection.
In 1902 Austrian went to Europe and opened a studio in Paris; his work was acclaimed in both France and England. After his return to the United States, he established studios in Reading, as well as in Palm Beach, Florida, where he and his wife spent the winters. He also had a summer home in the mountains near Kempton in Northern Berks County, Pennsylvania. One of Austrians best known ventures was his series of advertisements for the Bon Ami Company, many of which originated as paintings that featured chicks accompanied by his wife Molly, posing as a housewife, who always used the cleanser Hasn't Scratched Yet. The trademark chicks are still used by the company. Austrian's remarkable career was ended prematurely by his sudden death at the age of fifty-one.