Lowell Jackson Thomas was an American writer, broadcaster, and traveller best known as the man who made Lawrence of Arabia famous. So varied were Thomas’s activities that when it came time for the Library of Congress to catalog his memoirs they were forced to put them in “CT” in their classification.
Thomas was born in Woodington, Ohio, in Darke County, the son of Harry and Harriet Thomas. His father was a doctor and his mother a school teacher. In 1900, the family moved to the mining town of Victor, Colorado. There he worked as a gold miner, a cook, and a reporter on the newspaper.
In 1910, Thomas graduated from Victor High School, where one of his teachers was Mabel Barbee Lee. The following year, he graduated from Valparaiso University with bachelor’s degrees in education and science. The next year he received both a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Denver and began work for the Chicago Journal, writing for it until 1914. While in Chicago, he was a professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, teaching oratory. He then went to New Jersey, where he studied for a master’s at Princeton University and again taught oratory at the university.
A relentless self-promoter, Thomas persuaded railroads to give him free passage in exchange for articles extolling rail travel. When he visited Alaska, he hit upon the novel idea of the travelogue, movies about faraway places. When the United States entered World War I, he was part of an official party sent by President Wilson, former president of Princeton, to “compile a history of the conflict.” In reality the mission was not academic. The war was not popular in the United States, and Thomas was sent to find material that would encourage the American people to support it. Thomas did not want to merely write about the war, he wanted to film it. He estimated that $75,000 would be needed for filming, which the U.S. government thought too expensive, and so he turned to a group of 18 Chicago meat packers.