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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Sept. 19, 2014

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What in the heck is the University of Lawsonomy?


Thousands of people travel I-94 between Milwaukee and Chicago and see a sign reading "University of Lawsonomy" in Racine County.

Many will undoubtedly ask, "where is the university?" Located on the land where the sign sits are only a few outbuildings and a residence. The large field hardly fits the image of a campus. And, more importantly, what is lawsonomy?

Actually, the university planned on the site never developed. It originally was the brainstorm of Alfred Lawson, an aviator, economist, philosopher, baseball player, you name it.

To most, Lawson is a forgotten man in history. But, his philosophy, lawsonomy, once drew thousands in the 1930s and his impact on the aircraft industry was considerable.

Lawson published the first aeronautic magazine, Fly, in 1908. He published the magazine "to teach people that a great new aircraft industry could be built in the future through the construction of large passenger, freight and mail carrying airliners that would fly around the world."

His ideas were scoffed at by many at the time, but today are recognized as the forerunners of modern aviation. In 1919, Lawson developed an airliner capable of seating 18 people. He also developed an airline system which enabled one to fly from New York to San Francisco in 36 hours.

In the 1920s, Lawson developed an airline which seated 100 people. He received the coveted Winged America award for his efforts. Scientific Age magazine cited him in 1927 as the "world's leading passenger aeroplane builder."

However, in the early Depression years, Lawson turned away from the aircraft industry. Some sources say he found it too difficult to get financing for his projects. Others say he was deeply moved by the plight of the poor.

Whatever the reason for his turnabout, Lawson went about his new pursuit with zeal. In 1931, he wrote the book, "Direct Credits for Everybody," and organized the Direct Credits Society. This direct credit philosophy basically did away with the financiers and assured direct payment in proportion for the amount of work an individual did. The money system would be owned, controlled and operated by the people themselves under Lawson's system.

Money would have no value, other than as a measure of the value of land, products or labor. Money would be loaned to the people by the government acting as a trustee, without any charges.

This sounds like it would have trouble getting passed by Congress as an economic stimulus package, but out of the direct credit system Lawson developed lawsonomy.

Lawsonomy combined religion and economics and was based on a belief and adherence to what Lawson called "natural laws." Among several laws of the philosophy were: To know God one must understand his laws, true character is formed by unselfish acts, if man will act right he can have knowledge, God permits inactive creatures to perish and others.

Lawson used his philosophy to speak out about patriotism, diet, freedom of expression, spiritual worship and many other subjects. His followers were a disciplined group, wearing uniforms and adhering to a military-like structure.

The book, "Short Speeches As Spoken By Alfred Lawson," chronicled in photos and story a speech Lawson made to an overflow crowd at the International Amphitheater in Chicago on June 9, 1935. Thousands saw him speak at the Milwaukee Auditorium on Sept. 26, 1937.

Such turnouts were reported in cities throughout the Midwest in the 1930s, and the movement also spread to the West Coast. The lawsonomy newspaper, The Benefactor, once claimed a circulation of more than 6 million.

To some, Lawson's philosophy smacked of the rantings of an eccentric. Although Lawson was known to speak out against Naziism, his group's military-like ways turned off many when Adolf Hitler started to rise to power in Germany.

Lawson also had some eccentric ways. Some reported he regularly started his days by dunking his head in a bucket of ice water to stimulate his brain cells.

The lawsonomy movement dwindled with Lawson's death. But, the land in Racine County, where he had planned a university, was held in a trust by the lawsonomy group.

Today, it and its sign serves as a curiosity for those traveling one of the busiest stretches of highway in America, little more than a remnant of one man's passion.

For more on lawsonomy, visit www.lawsonomy.org or ansernet.rcls.org/lawson.

Gregg Hoffmann regularly writes The Brew Crew Review and Milwaukee Sports Buzz columns on OMC. He will periodically write Beyond Milwaukee columns about historic and interesting places in the Midwest that are located outside the Milwaukee area.

Talkbacks

tcaddell1 | Aug. 12, 2013 at 1:44 p.m. (report)

We are currently doing a documentary on Alfred Lawson and Lawsonomy. The name of the documentary is Last of the Lawsonomists. It chronicles Merle Hayden, who at 93 is still following the principles of Lawsonomy and is actively recruiting those who would listen. Please check out our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Lawsonomy, and also check out our Kickstarter campaign: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/318007139/last-of-the-lawsonomists

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Lipton | July 23, 2009 at 9:52 p.m. (report)

He was also the guy who invented putting numbers on team uniforms so that the fans could identify his players in Pennsylvania or at least that is what I read somewhere.

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geesquared | Feb. 24, 2008 at 8:07 a.m. (report)

The building where Lawson worked on and then crashed his last "airliner" causing the Lawson Airline Co. to go bankrupt is in the city of South Milwaukee on Menomonee Ave. It is in a redevelopment area and potentially up for demolition since no developer has come forward to propose an adaptive reuse.

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fredp | April 26, 2007 at 12:43 a.m. (report)

I've been going to university of lawsonomy since 1998,studied lawsons books since 1969,I'm in the process of writing the rise and fall of the university.mostly do to corruption of the present board of trustees,president,they are trying to sell it although it states in lawsons last will and bylaws it is to be donated to the state

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OMCreader | Oct. 25, 2006 at 3:32 p.m. (report)

Michael Pope said: Alfred Lawson was the subject of an entire chapter in Martin Gardner's book "Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science", published originally in 1952 and still in print from Dover Publications. Lawson developed his own system of physics as well as his own religion/economic system. His "discoveries" included the principles of Penetrability, Suction and Pressure, and Zig-Zag-and-Swirl. There was a University of Lawsonomy in Des Moines, Iowa for a while in the 40s and early 50s, that was sold the year of Lawson's death. At this school, the only books permitted were Lawson's own texts - a basketball rulebook was once banned because Lawson hadn't written it. In the early 1950s, according to Martin Gardner, the University tore down it's smokestack, yet continued to purchase coal for their power plant at the same rate - with no trace of coal smoke being emitted. Rumors spread that Lawson had used the Principle of Penetrability to devise an intricate system of underground tunnels that dispersed the smoke produced by the coal plant.

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