Harry John Lawson
- Not to be confused with Henry Lawson, Australian writer and poet.
Henry John Lawson, also known as Harry Lawson, (1852–1925) was a British bicycle designer, racing cyclist, motor industry pioneer, and fraudster. As part of his attempt to create and control a British motor industry Lawson formed and floated The Daimler Motor Company Limited in London in 1896. It later began manufacture in Coventry. Lawson organised the 1896 Emancipation Day drive now commemorated annually by the London to Brighton car run on the same course.
The son of a brass turner, Lawson designed several types of bicycle in the 1870s. His efforts were described as the "first authentic design of safety bicycle employing chain-drive to the rear wheel which was actually made", and has been ranked alongside John Kemp Starley as an inventor of the modern bicycle.
Lawson and the Motor Car Club organised the first London to Brighton run, the "Emancipation Run", which was held on 14 November 1896 to celebrate the relaxation of the Red Flag Act, which eased the way for the start of the development of the British motor industry.
Lawson attempted to monopolise the British automobile industry through the acquisition of foreign patents. He acquired exclusive British rights to manufacture the De Dion-Bouton and Bollée vehicles; bought the Humber Bicycle Company; and British patent rights for US bicycle designs. He founded a succession of promotional companies including: the British Motor Syndicate with Adolphe Clément and Lord Charles Chetwynd-Talbot, 20th Earl of Shrewsbury. (BMS was the first of many of Lawson's schemes to collapse in 1897, but it did provide the genesis for the Clément and Talbot marques.) Lawson also founded the British Motor Company, British Motor Traction Company, The Great Horseless Carriage Company, Motor Manufacturing Company, and of E. J. Pennington, forming the Anglo-American Rapid Vehicle Company. With his one great success, The Daimler Motor Company Limited, he bought in the rights of Gottlieb Daimler though this company too was to be reorganised in 1904. After a succession of business failures the British Motor Syndicate was reorganized and renamed the British Motor Traction Company in 1901, led by Selwyn F. Edge.
Many of Lawson's patents were not as defining as he had hoped, and from 1901 a series of legal cases saw the value in his holdings eroded. Lawson's patent rights were subsequently eroded through successful lawsuits by the Automobile Mutual Protective Association. In 1904 Lawson was tried in court for fraudulently obtaining money from his shareholders and, after representing himself in court, he was found guilty and sentenced to one year's hard labour. [note 1]
Lawson was completely out of the automobile industry by 1908 and disappeared from the public gaze for some years.
He reappeared as a director of the Blériot Manufacturing Aircraft Company Ltd., the English branch of Louis Blériot's aircraft company. Lawson secretly acquired control of the company just before a public subscription to help expand its war effort. But the company soon found itself in breach of its contract with Blériot. When this came to light, the company was wound up and its director found guilty of fraud and dishonesty.
He retired from the public gaze and died at his home in Harrow, London in 1925.
- Lawson was born in the City of London where his father was a Calvinistic Methodist minister and noted Puritan preacher. H O Duncan (1862—1946) was a journalist and successful racing cyclist and Commercial Manager of Lawson’s British Motor Syndicate. After Lawson’s death he describes Lawson in his ‘monumental’ two-volume book:
"He was neither a greedy man nor an egoist. On the contrary he was always fair and extremely generous. He paid largely and was most liberal in the golden days of his success. A cheque was always ready to be handed over with a kindly smile to friends who assisted him with his dealings or company-promoting schemes. Lawson was a clever man. Perhaps his greatest misfortune was in not being supported properly in his business by others equally intelligent." (Duncan, Herbert Osbaldeston The World on Wheels, thrilling true tales of the Cycle & Automobile Industry, vol 2. Self-published, 1926)
- 'Henry John Lawson' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- Storey, Richard (2004). "Lawson, Henry John (1852–1925)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- Setright, L. J. K. (2004). Drive On!: A Social History of the Motor Car. Granta Books. ISBN 1-86207-698-7.
- "Central Criminal Court, Dec. 17. The Hooley-Lawson Case: Verdict". The Times. 19 December 1904.
- "Winding Up Of An Aircraft Company., In Re Bleriot Manufacturing Aircraft Company (Limited)". The Times. 20 January 1916.
- Saul, S. B. (December 1962), Business History (5), pp. 22–38