America's Commercial Airline Inventor Also Founded a Bizarre Cult

America’s Commercial Airline Inventor Also Founded a Bizarre Cult

By Stephanie Schoppert
America’s Commercial Airline Inventor Also Founded a Bizarre Cult

Alfred Lawson was an unassuming man whose life was filled with some success and a few failures, but few could have predicted the very strange direction his life would take. He was born in 1869 in London but then emigrated to Canada and later the United States by 1872. In 1890, he started playing professional baseball in the minor leagues, getting one start with the Boston Beaneaters and two for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He stayed with the minors until 1895.

After that, his baseball career took another turn and he started managing in the minors from 1905 until 1907. His sights on baseball went even bigger and in 1908 he created an entirely new baseball league which became known as the Union Professional League. Unfortunately, the league ended just one month after it took the field due to financial difficulties. It would spell a trend for the rest of Alfred Lawson’s endeavors in life.  After the failure of his baseball league, he turned his sights in an entirely different direction and that was up.

Alfred Lawson was a very early advocate of aviation. In October of 1908, not long after the failure of his baseball league, he started the magazine Fly which was geared toward stimulating public interest in the fundamentals of aviation. It was sold on newsstands across the entire country and in 1910 he moved the magazine to New York City and renamed it Aviation. The magazine was published until 1914 and detailed the technical developments of aviation. He was the first advocate for commercial aviation and even coined the term “airliner.”

Lawson Airline Advertisement.

He believed that flying was the future and in 1913 he lobbied Congress to expand its appropriations for Army aircraft. That same year he learned to fly and became an accomplished pilot. He regularly flew from his country house in New Jersey to the foot of 75th street in New York which made him the first person to commute to work by plane. In 1917, he took his love and knowledge of planes to next level and founded the Lawson Aircraft Corporation. In 1918, he started efforts to create his own airline. He built and demonstrated the Lawson L-2, an 18-passenger biplane.

With positive press for his 18-passenger plane, he secured $1 million to build a 26-passenger plane called Midnight Liner. Unfortunately, the plane crashed during takeoff on its maiden voyage. From then on, he struggled to secure the capital he needed to keep building planes and fulfill even military contracts. In 1926, he started work on a 56 passenger, two-tier superliner. He was considered to be one of the foremost minds in modern aviation but he always struggled to get the financial backing he needed for his projects. It was his failures in aviation that led him to focus on another avenue and one that had many questioning his intelligence.