William Thomas Manning

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

Thomas William Lawson

Thomas William Lawson (1857-1925), American entrepreneur and reformer, wrote exposés of stock-promotion and insurance practices that helped bring government regulation into those fields.

Thomas Lawson was born in Charleston, Mass., on Feb. 26, 1857, the son of a carpenter. A bright, attractive boy, he early entered into bold stock market operations that won and lost him several fortunes. He made a picturesque enterprise of the Rand-Avery Publishing Company, in Boston, and himself wrote books displaying vigor and intelligence, including The Krank (1887), glorifying baseball, and Our Bandanna (1888), a history of the Republican party.

Lawson built up a following in business ventures and speculations. As a lieutenant of several of the nation's largest financial combinations, he helped float such enterprises as the Amalgamated Copper Company in 1899. He was also heavily involved in Boston gas interests. He lived lavishly and was frequently in the public eye. His personal fortune was estimated at $50 million. But despite his wealth he was treated disdainfully by established social leaders. Lawson resented their refusal of permission to have his yacht entered in the America's Cup competitions, on grounds that he was not a member of the exclusive New York Yacht Club. He wrote The Lawson History of the America's Cup (1902) to express his sentiments.

However, Lawson also had sincere democratic ideals and was genuinely angered by the treatment he received at the hands of business competitors. At a time when "muckraking" exposés were popular, Lawson was asked by editors of Everybody's Magazineto reveal the secrets of his trade. The detailed announcement in July 1904 that forthcoming issues would feature The Story of Amalgamated caused a sensation. The series, under the general title of "Frenzied Finance," went far beyond the lurid tale of Amalgamated Copper. It also gave accounts of unscrupulous dealings among major financial figures. The accounts entered into speculations accompanying the 1904 presidential election and stock market fluctuations thereafter.

Although Lawson promised a "remedy" for the unbridled operations he described, he withheld details while continuing his series in Everybody's. Then, in December 1907, he announced his retirement from reform. However, his exposés had already caused the life insurance investigations of 1905-1906, and they were instrumental in the formation in 1912 of the Pujo Committee, which investigated important figures in American business and finance. In 1912 Lawson revealed his "remedy" in Everybody's. In effect, it demanded government regulation. Though it fore-shadowed the later Securities and Exchange Commission, it had little contemporary impact. In later years Lawson lost much of his financial knack and all of his fortune. He died in Boston, poor and obscure, on Feb. 8, 1925.

Further Reading

The one modern treatment of Lawson is in Louis Filler, Crusaders for American Liberalism (1939; new ed. 1961). See also the introduction by the same author to David Graham Phillips, The Deluge (1905; new ed. 1969), which treats the Lawson phenomenon in fictional form. □