Your means consist of a forest of bayonets.-Count Kolowrat-Liebsteinsky
The Austrian Empire was one of the greatest European powers between the Napoleonic Wars and World War One. Created after the destruction of the Holy Roman Empire during the Napoleonic Wars, the empire proved essential in Napoleon's defeat, and through the genius of Klemens von Metternich, took a leading role in the post-war conservative order. Though the Revolutions of 1848 rocked it, the Danubian War catapulted the empire to its height, controlling a vast 'informal empire' in the Balkans, Germany, and Italy. The Emperor's League, as the Austro-Russian alliance would be called, controlled all of Europe south of Prussia, East of France, and north of Thrace. But no empire can last forever, and the Empire was defeated and overrun during the First World War. Afterwards, the much weakened empire morphed into Austria-Hungary.
For history prior to 1853, see Wikipedia.
Though many of his ministers advised against it, Franz Joseph choice to support Russia in the Danubian War proved the right one, providing the empire with new realms and a strong ally, which proved decisive later in defeating German and Italian nationalists, as well as France, in the Ten Week's War.
Bach and Taafe
"A standing army of soldiers, a sitting army of office holders, a kneeling army of priests and a fawning army of sneaks."-Adolf Fischhof, on the 'Bach System.'
Baron Alexander von Bach and Eduard Taaffe dominated Austrian politics from before the Danubian War to just before World War One. Both were conservatives, but Taaffe proved a noted compromiser with ethnic minorities and a voice of the Emperor, while Taaffe pushed for economic liberalism but extremely repressive internal policies.
Nonetheless, the empire prospered through the nineteenth century, with a booming economy thanks to her 'informal empire' and a strong international hand thanks to her alliance with Russia. Yet, the very source of Austria's newfound greatness proved its undoing with the outbreak of World War One, during which in a matter of a month, Allied forces overran and destroyed the empire. To prevent post-war revolution, Emperor Franz Joseph accepted the Ausgleich with Hungary, making the short-lived nation of Austria-Hungary.