Tyson, Lawrence Davis, 1861-1929

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Industrialist of Knoxville, Tenn.; brigadier general of the 59th Brigade, 30th Division in World War I; and U.S. senator, 1925-1929.

From the description of Lawrence Davis Tyson papers, 1837-1933 [manuscript]. WorldCat record id: 23737936

Lawrence Davis Tyson (b. July 4, 1861, Greenville, N.C.-d. Aug. 24, 1929), U.S. senator and West Point graduate (1883) served during the Spanish-American War and World War I.

From the description of Tyson, Lawrence Davis, 1861-1929 (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration). naId: 10598474

Born 4 July 1861 on a farm near Greenville, Pitt County, North Carolina, Lawrence Davis Tyson attended the country schools on his father's plantation until he entered the academy at Greenville in 1873. His lifelong involvement in the military began with his enrollment at West Point in 1879. Graduating in 1883, Tyson was commissioned second lieutenant of the United States Army and assigned to the Ninth Infantry. In September 1883, he began twelve years of active military duty at Fort D. A. Russell, Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he met Bettie Humes McGhee. Daughter of Charles McGhee, a leading railroad financier of the South, Bettie married Lawrence in February 1886. During their early married life the Tysons were stationed chiefly in the West, but spent one year (1888-1889) at a recruiting station in New York. Tyson subsequently spent two years in Arizona and New Mexico participating in campaigns against the Apaches. Tyson served his last four years of active duty (1891-1895) as a professor of military science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

While at the University, Tyson shifted his life's course from the military to a career in the private sector, when he earned a bachelor's degree in law in 1894. He resigned his commission in 1896 in order to practice law in Knoxville and quickly diversified his interests to take advantage of the expanding industrial opportunities of the New South. At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Tyson was president of the Nashville Street Railway Company, and, in 1899, he organized the Knoxville Spinning Company. War, however, briefly interrupted Tyson's business pursuits. He volunteered for service in 1898, recruited and trained the 6th Regiment, United States Volunteer Infantry, and took them to Puerto Rico. Tyson stayed there for several months as military governor of the north-central portion of that island, joined briefly by Bettie and their two children, Charles McGhee Tyson (b. 1889) and Isabella McGhee Tyson (b. circa 1893), after peace was declared in 1899. Before the year was out, the family returned to Knoxville.

In the years following the Spanish-American War, Tyson expanded his business interests beyond textile production and railroads to coal and iron mining, banking, and manufacturing. He became president of Poplar Creek Coal and Iron Company, East Tennessee Coal and Iron Company, Lenoir City Land Company, Southern Valve and Gear Company; vice president of Roane Iron Company, Cambria Coal Mining Company, Coal Creek Mining and Manufacturing Company; and director of two banks and several other corporations.

Tyson's career in politics began in 1903 when he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives and chosen speaker (1903-1905). During this period he continued to use his military training as inspector general of the Tennessee National Guard. In 1913 he was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the United States Senate.

Tyson volunteered for service at the outbreak of World War I and was commissioned brigadier general in command of all Tennessee National Guard troops. President Wilson soon assigned him to the 59th Brigade and sent him to train the troops at Camp Sevier, Greenville, South Carolina. His brigade of about 8,000 men embarked for France in May 1918 and in July joined British troops fighting in Belgium. They saw almost continuous action through October 1918 with over 3,000 killed or wounded. The brigade's signal achievement was its participation in breaking the heavily fortified Hindenburg line. Brigadier General Tyson subsequently received the Distinguished Service Medal. Sadly, however, while fighting in France Tyson received word of his son's death in a plane crash at Killingholme, England.

In 1919, after Tyson returned to Knoxville, he took his business career in yet another direction when he bought the Knoxville Sentinel and became its president and publisher. In 1920, the State Democratic convention endorsed Tyson for vice-president, but he withdrew his name and seconded the nomination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the national convention. In 1923 Tyson became president of the American Association of Cotton Manufacturers.

Tyson's aspirations to national political office were finally fulfilled when he became United States Senator from Tennessee in 1925. In the Senate he advocated adherence to the World Court; co-authored the Tyson-Fitzgerald bill, giving full retirement compensation to disabled emergency officers of the First World War; and supported legislation to aid agricultural interests and tighten immigration restrictions. He served on a variety of Senate committees, including banking and currency; commerce; education and labor; manufactures; and military affairs. Tyson died before the end of his Senate term at a sanatorium in Pennsylvania in August 1929.

From the guide to the Lawrence Davis Tyson Papers, ., 1837-1933, (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Tyson, Lawrence Davis, 1861-1929. Lawrence Davis Tyson papers, 1837-1933 [manuscript]. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
creatorOf Lawrence Davis Tyson Papers, ., 1837-1933 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection
referencedIn Meglemry, Thomas B. Scrapbook, 1898-1899. The Filson Historical Society
creatorOf Moore, John Trotwood, 1858-1929. Family papers, 1849-1957. Tennessee State Library & Archives, TSLA
referencedIn Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer. 1860 - 1985. Historical Films. 1914 - 1936. TRAINING IN FLANDERS AND YPRES-LYS OPERATION, MAY 24 TO SEPTEMBER 3, 1918, 30TH DIVISION National Archives at College Park
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Meglemry, Thomas B. person
associatedWith Moore, John Trotwood, 1858-1929. person
associatedWith Tyson, Bettie Humes McGhee, fl. 1883-1933. person
associatedWith United States. Army corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Army. Division, 30th. Brigade, 59th. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Congress. Senate corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Camp Sevier (S.C.)
United States
Puerto Rico
South Carolina
Political campaigns
Indians of North America
Military training camps
World War, 1914-1918


Birth 1861-07-04

Death 1929-08-24



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