Born in Texing, Austria, Dollfuss was a religious youth who was educated at a seminary before deciding to study law at the University of Vienna and then economics at the University of Berlin. During WW I he had difficulty being drafted due to his short stature but he was eventually accepted and sent to the Alpine front, briefly becoming a POW in 1918. After the war, he worked for the Agriculture ministry as secretary of the Peasants' Association. He became director of the Lower Austrian Chamber of Agriculture in 1927 and in 1930 as a member of the conservative Christian Social Party he was appointed president of the Federal Railway System. The following year he was named minister of agriculture and forests. He became Chancellor on May 20, 1932 as head of a new coalition government.
He initiated a programme of economic reform and sought allies, especially Mussolini's Italy, to bolster his opposition to a union with Germany. Due to economic problems and oppostion, in May 1933 he dissolved Parliament and instituted rule by decree. The same month he banned the leftist Social Democratic Party and the following month he banned the Austrian National Socialist Party. In September 1933 he formed his own political party, the Vaterländische Front (Fatherland Front) and merged his party with the para-military Heimwehr (Home Guard) in 1934, which had been formed after WW I as a militia to protect Austria from a Communist uprising. In February 1934 the Social Democrats began a very short-lived armed conflict which led to the re-introduction of the death sentence and the creation of detention camps. In May 1934 Dollfuss proclaimed a new constitution modelled on that of Fascist Italy.
On July 25, 1934 eight Austrian Nazis entered the Chancellery building and shot and killed Dollfuss in an attempted coup. The Nazis surrendered and were executed and Kurt von Schuschnigg became Chancellor of Austria.