Monday, June 11, 2007

A Sign Before It's Time?

If I told you about a man who, failed in previous careers, becomes an author with limited success, but uses his writings as the basis for a pseudo-religion with a near fanatical following, you would say, "that's L. Ron Hubbard." And you would be wrong.

Thousands of travelers along the busy I-94 corridor between Chicago and Milwaukee pass by this sign near Racine, Wisconsin, most of whom never give what it says a second thought. And yet the legend behind the name gives Mr. Hubbard a run for the money.

Alfred Lawson's first career was as a professional baseball player during the turn of the last century. He was regarded by some as a promising young pitcher, but bad luck and an even worse personality derailed his big league aspirations. After seeing a dirigible in flight in 1907, Lawson experienced an epiphany of sorts and left baseball to start the first aviation journal and eventually his own airplane manufacturing company. Well, actually two airplane companies. The first one built military planes and shut down after World War I. The second company operated in Milwaukee for the purpose of building passenger planes for his nascent air line. But whatever talent he had as a salesman was easily countered by an inferior aircraft design, and his air line never really launched. If that was the end of the story, Lawson would be remembered as an aviation visionary at best, snake oil salesman at worst. But he had found his true calling. Or a way to make a fortune, depending on how you look at it.

Lawson developed a philosophy based on his belief that banks were the root of all economic problems. He also wrote a novel and used it as the basis for a new, science and economics based religion called Lawsonomy. His message of calling for the abolition of banks with money controlled by the central government had resonance during the Great Depression, when banks were often seen to be the cause of so much suffering. So when most hucksters might turn to politics to gain power and money, Lawson chose instead to grow his religion and create a university to groom his acolytes. That didn't turn out so well, since his "students" lived in a military fashion, including wearing uniforms. The parallels to a rising star in pre-war Germany hit a bit close to home, and the university failed. And so, after failing in Iowa, Lawson moved back to Wisconsin, bought a tract of land, and tried his lot again. But alas, the University of Lawsonomy would all but disappear. Except for this sign.

Can you imagine what might have been if only Lawson enlisted some B-list actors to carry his flag? This similarities are almost uncanny. On that, Lawson was a generation ahead of Hubbard.

The research for this article turned out quite a fascinating story. I should hope a documentary producer out there might pick this up. I sprinkled links to source documents throughout this article. I'd like to leave you with a link to a Youtube video to a tour of the university campus. Don't worry, it's only a little more than 90 seconds long.

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2 astute observations :

  1. Aesthetic said...

    WOW, "...knowledge of Life and everything pertaining thereto."

    Some interesting links Rich.

  2. richmanwisco said...

    And it's all facts. Everything is based on facts. And what, exactly are these facts? Well that's where I suppose you have to enroll in the university and you'll find out.

    UPDATE: I called the toll free number, and there actually was a message playing at the other end. And the campus showed no signs of activity or habitation, yet the grass is mowed. Sort of....ethereal.