Lowell J. Thomas, Class of 1916
Writer and broadcaster who made "Lawrence of Arabia" famous
Lowell Thomas was perhaps best known as an American writer, broadcaster, and traveler, often referred to as the man who made Lawrence of Arabia famous. When the Library of Congress cataloged his memoirs, it was so varied they were forced to put them in “CT,” where biographies of subjects who do not fit into any other category are placed.
Thomas taught oratory at Chicago-Kent while also attending classes and working as a reporter for the Chicago Evening Journal. He graduated from the law school in 1916 and immediately moved on to Princeton University, where he also taught and earned a Master’s degree. When the United States entered World War I, Thomas was part of an official party sent by President Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton, to “compile a history of the conflict.” Overseas, he met T.E. Lawrence, a captain in the British Army in Jerusalem who was spending 200,000 pounds a month encouraging the inhabitants of Palestine to revolt against the Turks. The dramatic footage that Thomas shot of Lawrence and the resulting film, With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia, made both men household names. Thomas also wrote several dozen books about his experiences abroad.
During the 1920s, Thomas became a magazine editor, and also narrated Twentieth Century Fox’s Movietone newsreels until 1952. In 1930, he became a broadcaster with the CBS Radio Network, where he would later host the first-ever television news broadcast and the first regularly scheduled television news broadcast. He later returned to his true passion, radio, and spent four decades presenting and commenting upon the news until his retirement in 1976, the longest radio career of anyone in his day. Often referred to as “the world’s foremost globetrotter,” Thomas took his radio show on his travels, broadcasting from the four corners of the world. He was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1989.
Thomas was also an astute businessman and in 1954, he co-founded Capital Cities Communications, which later took over American Broadcasting Communications. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford in 1976, the highest award that can be conferred upon a civilian, and he has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He passed away in 1981 and since 1985, the Society of North American Travel Writers has held an annual Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition for outstanding print, online and multimedia works and for travel photography and both audio and video broadcast.