Important in the history of business in Missouri, Albert Bond Lambert made even larger contributions to the development of aviation. Benefiting from his father’s accomplishments, he enjoyed the business success that enabled him to play his other role.
Lambert was born in St. Louis on December 6, 1875, the son of Jordan W. Lambert, the founder of the Lambert Pharmaceutical Company. In 1896 young Albert put aside his studies at the University of Virginia to become president of the company, best known for an antiseptic called Listerine. He expanded the company’s operations, establishing factories in France and Germany. A profitable enterprise, it soared in the 1920s when a new advertising campaign generated fears about halitosis and portrayed Listerine as the best means of avoiding or curing this malady that left one a social failure. He stepped down as president in 1923, becoming chairman of the board of directors, and retired from business in 1926 when his firm became a division of a larger corporation.
By then Lambert was heavily involved in his other career, aviation. Focusing first on balloons, he had joined with other St. Louisans in 1907, many of them millionaires like himself, to found the St. Louis Aero Club and build an airfield, the first in the city. He soon became a balloon pilot and participated in races. Balloons had uses for national defense, and Lambert became a champion of military preparedness as an officer of the Navy League. After the United States entered World War I in 1917, he organized and financed a training school in St. Louis for balloonists; it was assimilated into the Army Signal Corps and moved to Texas, and Lambert, commissioned a major, served as its commanding officer.
After the war, Lambert organized the National Balloon Race, but he soon shifted his focus to airplanes. He had become an airplane pilot before the war, and in 1920 he purchased land northwest of the city and developed it into a multipurpose airfield, superior to the one the city had constructed in Forest Park. In 1927 a flyer, Charles A. Lindbergh, working for the major firm based at the field, turned to Lambert for support for a plan to demonstrate what aircraft could do by flying nonstop across the Atlantic. Lambert made the first pledge, and his prestige helped the young man get additional financial support. The backers called themselves the Spirit of St. Louis Organization, and Lindbergh, upon his return from Paris, hailed them in his book We as the “Men Whose Confidence and Foresight Made Possible the Flight of the ‘Spirit of St. Louis.’”
As Lindbergh and his backers had hoped, the pilot’s accomplishments gave a big boost to aviation in St. Louis. To Lambert, it seemed that the flight to Paris had enhanced the city’s reputation and that a follow-up flight to Latin America would hasten the establishment of airmail service between the United States and Mexico. In 1928, still under Lindbergh’s spell, St. Louis voters overwhelmingly endorsed a bond issue that enabled the city to purchase and develop Lambert’s field into one of the nation’s most important airports. Lambert sold it at a low price.
After these exciting and important events, Lambert and Lindbergh remained in touch with one another. When it was rumored in 1937 that the flyer and his family planned to settle permanently in England, it was Lambert who reported that he had received a letter from his friend expressing a desire to return home. After he returned, Lindbergh visited with Lambert and admired his ongoing efforts to improve St. Louis.
Lambert did not limit his life to business and aviation. He contributed to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, was a member of the city council from 1907 to 1911, and served effectively on the St. Louis police board from 1933 to 1941. A man of many interests, he spent some of his time focusing on music, science, and travel. He was a husband, the father of four children, and an Episcopalian; he was also an athlete, playing football in college and winning golf championships in later years. He joined several clubs, where he often played leadership roles.
However, Lambert gained historical significance chiefly in aviation. Highly regarded around the world as well as at home, he helped make St. Louis a major aviation center. In the last years before his death in his mansion near Forest Park on November 12, 1946, he developed plans for further expansion of the city’s airport. It continues to be known as the St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
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———. The History of Aviation in St. Louis. Gerald, MO: Patrice Press, 1984.
Lambert, Albert Bond. Papers. Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.
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The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970.
“The Wings of the Eagle.” Everybody’s Magazine 33 (September 1915): 257–70.
Published October 26, 2023
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