Years ago, as you made the drive up I-94 between Chicago and Milwaukee, about 13 miles north of the border, you’d see a long, low sign along the east side of the highway proclaiming University of Lawsonomy. A bi-plane was painted on one end of the sign. But there was nothing on the property other than a few run-down outbuildings and an old house.
What was Lawsonomy and why did it have a university?
Lawsonomy was the brain child of Alfred Lawson, who was born in England in 1869. After he came to the states, he became interested in baseball, playing in three major league games and hanging around the minor leagues for a few years before becoming a manager.
With the advent of the air age, Alfred Lawson saw a world of opportunities in front of him. In 1908, just five years after the Orville’s famous flight, he started the magazine Fly, designed to generate the public’s interest in aviation. In 1917, he built his first airplane and founded the Lawson Aircraft Corporation in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He pioneered commercial aviation when, in 1919, he built the first airliner, the Lawson L-2. He eventually built the 26-passenger Midnight Liner, which crashed on its maiden flight and marked the beginning of a downward spiral in his aviation career.
In the later 1920s, he turned his focus to health, philosophy, and religion, founding Lawsonomy. He promoted vegetarianism, freedom of expression, and spiritual worship. His thoughts were based on tenets such as:
- Education is the science of knowing truth.
- Miseducation is the art of absorbing falsity.
- Truth is that which is, not that which ain’t.
- Falsity is that which ain’t, not that what is.
His followers wore uniforms and followed a military-like life. What started out drawing thousands of fans in the Upper Midwest, and included a university he started in Des Moines in 1943, dwindled quickly. Land that he purchased in Racine, Wisconsin, for his university’s home, was never built on. And though Alfred Lawson claimed to have found the secret to living to be 200, he died in 1954 at age 85.
There are a handful of Lawsonomy followers left, and the land in Wisconsin has been held in trust all these years. The sign, which was once an icon along the roadway, is now gone.