Alfred William Lawson (March 24, 1869 - November 29, 1954) was a professional baseball player, manager and league promoter from 1887 through 1916 and went on to play a pioneering role in the US aircraft industry, publishing two early aviation trade journals. In 1904, he also wrote a novel, Born Again, clearly inspired by the popular Utopian fantasy Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, an early harbinger of the metaphysical turn his career would take. He is frequently cited as the inventor of the airliner and was awarded several of the first air mail contracts, which he ultimately could not fulfill. He founded the Lawson Aircraft Company in Green Bay, Wisconsin to build military training aircraft and later the Lawson Airplane Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to build airliners. The crash of his ambitious "Midnight Liner" during its trial flight takeoff on May 8, 1921 ended his best chance for commercial aviation success.
He later propounded his own philosophy—Lawsonomy—and the Lawsonian religion. He also developed, during the Great Depression, the populist economic theory of "Direct Credits", according to which banks are the cause of all economic woe, the oppressors of both capital and labour. Lawson believed that the government should replace banks as the provider of loans to business and workers. His rallies and lectures attracted thousands of listeners in the early 30s, mainly in the upper Midwest, but by the late 30s the crowds had dwindled.
In 1943, he founded the unaccredited University of Lawsonomy in Des Moines to spread his teachings and offer the degree of "Knowledgian," but after various IRS and other investigations it was closed and finally sold in 1954, the year of Lawson's death. Lawson's financial arrangements remain mysterious to this day and in later years he seems to have owned little property, moving from city to city as a guest of his farflung acolytes. A 1952 attempt to haul him before a Senate investigative committee and get to the bottom of his operation ended with the old man leaving the senators baffled and unimpressed.
A farm near Racine, Wisconsin is the only remaining university facility, although a tiny handful of churches may yet survive in places such as Wichita, Kansas. The large sign, formerly reading "University of Lawsonomy", was a familiar landmark for motorists in the region for many years and was visible from I-94 about 13 miles north of the Illinois state line. Although the sign still exists, the "of" has now been replaced by the URL of their website.