Lewis (commonly known as "E.G. Lewis") was born in Connecticut, and came to St. Louis in the late 1890s, selling insect extermination products and medicines which were said to be highly questionable. He bought a magazine called "Winner," based in downtown St. Louis, which he renamed "Woman's Magazine." He quickly built its circulation to the largest in the country, amassing a fortune in the process. Penny-per-pound postage rates and Rural Free Delivery brought him a large rural readership, and mail order ads in the magazine allowed him to sell annual subscriptions for $0.10, and still make money.
In 1902, Lewis purchased 85 acres (344,000 m²) near the construction site for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, which became the nucleus for University City. In 1903, with his publishing operation outgrowing its downtown St. Louis location, he began the construction of a new Lewis Publishing Company headquarters and Press Annex at this site. Between 1903 and 1915, he continued to acquire surrounding parcels and develop subdivisions. After incorporating University City in 1906, he served three terms as mayor. During this time he built the Woman's Magazine Building, an Egyptian temple and an Art Academy. He also founded the American's Woman's League, the People's University, and the American Woman's Republic, started two daily newspapers and two banks.
During this time, Lewis was indicted several times on federal charges. He had attracted the enmity of Postmaster General George B. Cortelyou, who accused him of defrauding the Post Office by mailing his periodicals with the magazine rate, when in fact they were advertisements. Although Lewis was acquitted of all charges, Cortelyou was successful in shutting down Lewis' "U.S. People's Bank," a mail-order bank which would have offered services in direct competition with postal money orders.
In 1912, Lewis began purchasing the land which would become Atascadero, California -- a colony for his American Woman's Republic. At the same time, his financial empire in Missouri was collapsing, and ended in bankruptcy and litigation. But Lewis was undeterred by these developments, and by 1915, he had borrowed more money and moved his base of operations to the Atascadero colony. His planning ideas were heavily influenced by both the City Beautiful movement and, to a lesser extent, Ebenezer Howard's Garden City designs. He built a highway from Atascadero to the Pacific coast at Morro Bay, which is now a section of State Route 41 officially designated as the "E.G. Lewis Highway".
By 1924, Lewis declared bankruptcy a second time. He died in 1950. His contributions are celebrated annually in University City and Atascadero.
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