The Lawrence-Lewis Aeroplane Co

By Tom Yanul, © 2001

This page is intended to add some information and knowledge regarding the aircraft built by photographer George R Lawrence and his business partner, Harry Lewis. There is a great deal of paperwork to go through to get my own research house in order here. Meanwhile, I hope you will enjoy what is here and email me if you can add anything or have a question.

Formally known as the Lawrence-Lewis Aeroplane Company, it was located in Chicago from about 1913 into 1919. Exactly how many aircraft were constructed is not clear; there may have been as few as three or as many as five — several of the aircraft were rebuilt after crashes, and whether or not complete new aircraft were built from the ground up is unknown. Even his late son, Lee Lawrence, whom I interviewed many times, wasn't sure about that fact but there is no doubt about the "three" figure. One photo taken in the company shops on the west side of Chicago's downtown area clearly shows three aircraft under construction at the time.

There were two distinct sizes of a similar plane, all cabin-enclosed seaplanes which in family lore were the first such aircraft constructed. I have no comment one way or the other on this, but it obviously was a very early model of a cabin enclosure if nothing else.

Various models of the different sizes were the As, which came along as the A-4 and A-2, and similarly the B-1 and B-2. The basic differences in the A model were the changes in engine size and radiator. In the B models I am not so certain of the exact changes, but it was a much larger version of the A and carried a much heavier engine, a Wisconsin 6-cylinder.

It is not my intent here to fully describe all that is known about the planes and the company, but merely as a starting place to get some word out and begin my own process of organizing this rather complicated and yet largely unknown enterprise, at least in many details.

George R Lawrence was born c.1865 near Ottawa IL and his family moved to a farm at Manteno IL when he was a year old. Growing up for George seemed to have been an experiment in invention and wonder. He ventured to Chicago on his own on his 18th birthday. One thing led to another and, eventually, Lawrence was running one of the largest commercial photography enterprises in the country. A full story about his photographic career is another subject, but suffice to say that he lost his large commercial photo business, the George R Lawrence Co of Chicago, in 1910.

It appears that Lawrence, already an "aeronaught" of ballooning since the late 19th century, was enamored of the heavier-than-air concept, including helicopters. In 1912 he traveled to London with plans for a heavier-than-air machine and, after six months, returned, reportedly with $15,000 to design an aircraft. (There is no evidence found as yet to confirm Lawrence receiving any funds from the British government, but it is family legend and was reported in some news articles, which are always subject to skepticism.) The funds were reportedly used for the ill-fated design of a helicopter. When that project failed, the remaining monies were put to use in his first fixed-wing aircraft, the A-4.

More photos and additional information (external link)