Alfred Lawson - Direct Credits, Pressure and Suction

1.  The Early Years: Starting With His Head In The Clouds

Alfred Lawson's life is reminiscent of Buckminster Fuller as interpreted by Tex Avery. Lawson was raised in Detroit, and first made his mark in the world in 1888 as a baseball pitcher, and worked on and off in baseball until 1907, when he managed the team which won the Atlantic League Championship. It was around this time that he began studying aviation, and he managed to play a significant role in the history of the field:

  • he founded and worked on a number of early aeronautical publications, and actually trademarked the word "aircraft" in 1910.
  • he designed a variety of commercial aircraft (most of which crashed during development)
  • he lobbied the US government to begin investment in military aircraft prior to WWI
  • he obtained the first air mail contract in the US in 1920.

His future career path became a little clearer with his 1921 book The Airliner, written under the pseudonym "Cy Q. Faunce." This was a wise choice, as the book was about himself, with the apparent goal of boosting his reputation in the industry.

2.  Then Things Started To Get Weird...

This was followed by his first real step off the beaten path, his 1922 "physics" book The Key to Perpetual Movement where he laid out the "Lawson Law of Movement", aka "Penetrability" (snazzy, huh?). He wrote a few other pamphlets, but his real breakthrough came after the 1931 publication of Direct Credits for Everybody, a book on monetary/economic reform that focused on dropping gold-backed currency and establishing various guaranteed-income programs. Broadly speaking it fell into the "new economics" school of many early 20th century reformers (whom Lawson never mentioned in his writings). Basically, the book advocated reforming capitalism by taking banking out of the hands of "international financiers" (refreshingly enough not identified as the Jews), and placing it in the hands of democratic government, whereby interest would be abolished.

3.  When The Going Gets Tough, The Weird Get Lobbying

While Lawson's Direct Credits proposals were not an immediate success, within a few years they became the basis of a nation-wide organization called the Direct Credits Society, based in Detroit. The Society fielded enough members to hold large parades, both in Detroit and elsewhere; appearances by Lawson drew some pretty hefty crowds. At its peak in 1936, the DCS claimed over 150,000 "officers" nationally. As this memoir of a participant in the Society shows, the organization was focused on building a well-documented base of support for Lawson's policies. In addition, the DCS gathered endorsements from a number of major political figures, including congressmen and the Vice-President of the United States (it isn't clear which one). The organization's strategy might have borne fruit if the economy hadn't grown alongside the hostilities in Europe.

However, the decline of the Society didn't discourage Lawson. Instead, he founded a philosophical/religious organization named, humbly enough, Lawsonomy. Lawsonomy got solidly underway when Lawson purchased the campus of Des Moines University and renamed it the Des Moines University of Lawsonomy. It encompassed a wide range of topics: his earlier economic work, relatively impenetrable writings of philosophy, and his slightly surreal physics (admittedly no more so than quantum mechanics), defined by Pressure and Suction. To give you a flavor of Lawson's cosmology, Lawsonomy declares that atoms are living things, eating and excreting. He also discussed pseudo-Orgone concepts and telepathy, and predicted the evolution of a new enlightened species of humanity, the "Sagemen". Not surprisingly, Lawson fills in as the Messiah. A more detailed description is provided by Donna Kossy

Lawson passed away in 1954. His organizations were left somewhat adrift, as he had structured his organizations so that no one person could ascend to leadership of the entire empire. Even worse, the plans he had written up for governance of the organizations was misplaced for two years following his death. Lawson's ashes are displayed in an urn at the University of Lawonomy in Sturtevant, Wisconsin.

4.  Stories and Speculation

It would be far too easy to portray Lawson as some sort of deranged supervillain, attempting to take over the government through his economic policies, or convert the masses to the wonders of Pressure and Suction. However, Lawson was very clearly both a polymath and a humanitarian, at least in his earlier years, and would serve as a mysterious contact or even a patron. He could potentially provide a group of heroes with aeronautical support, weird science equipment, and potentially even influence over government officials through the lobbying of the Direct Credits Society. For that matter, the establishment of a Direct Credits economy in Depression-era America could be the basis of an interesting alternate history (particularly if his physics actually worked!)

5.  Sources

Lawson's publishing firm, the Humanity Benefactor Foundation, remained in Detroit for his entire life. The Direct Credits Society was still a legally established as a Michigan corporation in 1990, and reportedly there is still a branch of the church in operation in Detroit. The church also maintains a website at Lawsonomy.org. Mr. Jerry Kuntz has a detailed accounting of Lawson's life at the Ramapo Catskill Library System website. Finally, a number of graduate dissertations have reportedly been written on the Lawson universe; some of the material from this section was drawn from the MA thesis of Garret Kenneth Jones at Wayne State University.