Information on E.G. Lewis
December 31, 1969
E.G. Lewis and the US Postal System
Provided by Tom Lewis,Grand Nephew of E.G. Lewis
Prior to purchasing the 23,000 acre J.H. Henry ranch in February 1913, E.G. Lewis was mayor of his first planned community, University City which is now a suburb of St. Louis Missouri. As a visionary, he advocated three measures, all considered advanced at the time: Woman’s Suffrage, a Postal Bank and Parcels Post. At that time, The Lewis Publishing Company was the foremost periodical publisher in America. The Woman’s Magazine had a circulation of 1,600,000 and the Woman’s Farm Journal a circulation of 1,300,000. He also owned the St. Louis Daily and Sunday Star as well as many other publications. His magazines had the largest circulation in America at that time
Failing to get parcels post and a postal banking system adopted by congress he organized The Peoples US mail bank with $5,000,000 in capital. The bank filled a need for banking services for rural America. It was so successful it attracted the attention of Senator Thomas C. Platt of New York whose express check company (Unites States Express) experienced a profound reduction in receipts. Senator Platt was known as the Republican Party boss and bundler for President Roosevelt’s re-election. George B. Cortelyou, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, who also worked for Roosevelt’s re-election was then appointed as Postmaster General. In 1905 when Congress adjourned he issued a fraud order against Mr. Lewis, revoking his use of the mail, wreaking havoc on his publishing empire.
A seven year attack followed, including 14 indictments for mail fraud against Lewis for using the magazine rate for his periodicals when the Postmaster deemed them advertisements. Cortelyou blamed the Third Assistant Postmaster General Madden, head of that postal department, on this misuse of the post office. Actually Cortelyou was successfully keeping Lewis from operating his "The People's U. S. Bank" which would compete with the "Postal Money Orders." Apparently Roosevelt approved, since Cortelyou was promoted to Secretary of the Treasury in 1907. Ironically, Roosevelt received credit for the founding of the US Postal Savings System in 1911
E.G. Lewis was not convicted on any of the indictments. They were either thrown out, found not guilty or acquitted. However, his publishing empire was wrecked and the bank after two receiverships was liquidated paying the investors 87 cents on the dollar. In June 1910 a bill, HR 26799 was introduced to provide $1,500,000 in relief for the destruction of the Lewis enterprises. It didn’t pass. In summer of 1911 The Ashbrook Committee (HR109) concluded its yearlong investigation of the Post Office. It found willful persecution of a citizen with no due process and the regulations were changed.
http://law.wustl.edu/Staff/Taylor/women/v5n2/league.htm. The dvd ‘Life of a Visionary’, available for purchase here and at the museum also provides good insight.
Although Lewis was exonerated by the Ashbrook Committee findings, his lengthy battle to save his name broke his health and forced ultimately into bankruptcy in 1911. (Ashbrook Committee findings are available for review through the museum). When Lewis’ second term as mayor ended in 1913 he did not seek re-election and turned his attention to his dream of a new master planned community in Atascadero .
In 1928 Mr. Lewis was again indicted for mail fraud. It is said that his periodicals mislabeled one of the oil wells that was being advertised. He was convicted of mail fraud and commingling, appealed, and being broke, acted as his own attorney, and was again convicted. He was convicted on several counts and sentenced with concurrent terms for seven years (Atascadero News) at McNeil Island, Federal Penitentiary. He was given a month to settle his affairs. Arriving at McNeil Island on his own account on May 1st the commitment papers had not arrived, however he was permitted to stay. He was paroled in 1931 with the stipulation he was not to use the mail for the establishment of any enterprise. Arriving in Atascadero he faced volumes of mail from his investors requesting information about the status of their claims, saying they were unable to get answers elsewhere. He concluded answering on an individual basis wasn’t feasible, he decided to put together the ‘Lewis Journal’ as a paid subscriber service solely for his former investors only ran this idea by his parole officer who advised against it. Unfortunately, he had already sent out the first one. His journal likely shown a light where it wasn’t welcome (personal E.G. Lewis correspondence). Shortly, federal marshals arrived in the dead of night, took him away in shackles (he was 62) and he was sent back to McNeil Island to serve the remainder of his sentence. His time at McNeil was exemplary; he headed the prison publication known as The Lantern (see E.G. display case in entry) which won awards. He taught the warden to paint and spent much time with the warden on his yacht painting land & seascapes.
He was released from prison on April 10, 1934 (age 65) and after a brief time working in Los Angeles, returned to his home in Atascadero and remained here until his death in August of 1950. In 1965 his home (known as Headquarters House) was burned to the ground in a fire training exercise to make way for a new shopping center where Vons Supermarket (at the corner of El Camino and Hwy 41) now resides.