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Thomas W. Lawson from Dictionary of American Biography

Thomas W. Lawson

from the Dictionary of American Biography, 1933.

Lawson, Thomas William (Feb. 26, 1857-Feb. 8, 1925), stockbroker and author, was born in Charlestown, Mass., the son of Thomas and Anna Maria (Loring) Lawson who had emigrated from Nova Scotia a few years before. The father, a carpenter, died when young Thomas was only eight years old; and at twelve the boy, unwilling to be a burden on his mother any longer, slipped away from school one day and found work as an office boy with a brokerage firm in Boston, almost across the street from the location of his own sumptuous offices in later years. Early in his career he speculated in stocks. He made a considerable “killing” in railroad shares when he was only seventeen but lost his profits a few days later in another deal.

At twenty-one he married Jeannie Augusta Goodwillie, his boyhood sweetheart, and shortly afterward became a broker on his own account. He is said to have accumulated a million dollars by the time he was thirty. He celebrated the occasion by writing a History of the Republican Party, which he published at his own expense, and of which he had four copies specially printed on satin. Despite his lack of formal education, he acquired by his own efforts an excellent command of English and a considerable degree of literary culture.He spent his life in Boston, where he not only acted as agent and promoter for New York and other financiers and corporations but speculated for himself. He loved a fight when in his prime, and few men in the stock market have had so stormy a career. He assisted the Addicks interests to wrest the control of Bay State Gas from Standard Oil in 1894, though Addicks lost it again shortly afterward.

Lawson’s ability was recognized by the Standard Oil magnates, and thereafter for several years he was their ally. For many years in the latter part of his life he was president of the Bay State Gas Company of Delaware. By 1900 he was worth at least fifty millions and had created a handsome estate, “Dreamwold,” near Boston, which cost $6,000,000. He paid a florist $30,000 for a carnation bearing Mrs. Lawson’s name. He was a lover of art, literature, and nature, and his large private office was crowded with bronzes, paintings, books, and masses of fresh flowers. These as adjuncts to the brilliant, dynamic, spectacular, faultlessly garbed but erratic personality behind the desk, rendered it unique among business offices. When Sir Thomas Lipton, the British yachtsman, challenged again for the America’s Cup in 1901, Lawson, seeing here an opportunity for both sport and publicity, built a yacht of his own, Independence, to compete in the trial heats with the New York Yacht Club’s two boats. But the Yacht Club practically barred his boat from competition, and he acquired a grudge against certain wealthy members of the club which long endured.

He had in 1897 become connected with the promotion of Amalgamated Copper, the name under which Standard Oil capitalists reorganized the great Anaconda mine and allied properties. On this stock they now made a handsome profit, with Lawson acting as their chief broker. The stock thereafter rapidly declined in price and many holders of it suffered heavy losses.

In 1902, when Lawson, with Winfield M. Thompson, published The Lawson History of The America’s Cup, the editor of Everybody’s Magazine, learning of his grievance, induced him to write the allegedly true story of Amalgamated Copper, which he did under the title of “Frenzied Finance” -one of the most sensational successes in magazine history. The entire edition of the magazine containing the first instalment was exhausted in three days. To journalistic instinct, Lawson added an easy, slashing style and a knack for colorful phrasing which made his rough-and-tumble attack on the “money kings” vastly popular, even though readers regarded him as belonging in the same category. During the course of the articles (1904-05), the writer also assailed the large insurance companies and performed a public service by bringing about the insurance investigation of 1905; but his “remedies” for the correction of stock-market gambling were not adopted. Frenzied Finance was published in book form and was followed by a novel, Friday, the Thirteenth (1907), also attacking the stock market, but this was less popular. Later books were The Remedy (1912); The High Cost of Living (1913); and The Leak (1919). The enmity aroused by his Frenzied Finance was costly to him. He lost clients and good will thereby and many serious losses were wilfully inflicted upon him by antagonists. During the last fifteen years of his life he seemed to lose his old knack for success, and his fortunes declined steadily. He lost his magnificent estate, even his automobile, and died a comparatively poor man.

[The Lawson History of the America’s Cup (1902) and The High Cost of Living (1913) contain important references to the writer’s history, and “Frenzied Finance” as it ran in Everybody’s with the supplementary department, “Lawson and his Critics,” has some interesting personal material. See also Who’s Who in America, 1934-35; Nation, Aug. 14, 1903, Dec .21, I905; Independent, May 18, 1905; Arena, Sept. 1905; the Bookman Apr. 1907; Current Lit., Mar. 1908; Outlook, Sept. 5, 1908; New Eng. Mag., Mar. 1909; Boston Herald, Boston Transcript, Feb. 9, 1925]

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