Alfred Lowenstein (March 11, 1877 - July 4, 1928), CB, was a Belgian soldier, aviator, sportsman, and one of the most powerful businessmen during the early decades of the 20th century.
Early life and business career
Born in Brussels, Belgium, he was a wealthy man by the time World War I erupted in Europe. He joined the Belgian armed forces and following the army's retreat, Captain Alfred Lowenstein was sent to London, England where he was placed in charge of military supplies. At war's end, he maintained a residence in England where he ran an investment business that made him one of Europe's most powerful financiers. He partnered with the Canadian-born investment house of Sir James Dunn in several business venture, the duo emerging with more than £1,000,000 profit from their 1920s investment in British Celanese alone.
Business successes, disappearance, and theories
Business success in electric power
Lowenstein also made an enormous fortune providing electric power facilities for developing countries worldwide through his Belgian-based company, "Société Internationale d'Énergie Hydro-Électrique" (SIDRO). By the mid 1920s, Lowenstein's reputation was such that he was consulted by heads of state from around the globe. The British government made him a Companion in The Most Honourable Order of the Bath.
Disappearance in an airplane
In 1926, he established "International Holdings and Investments Limited" that raised huge amounts of capital from wealthy investors wishing to get aboard his bandwagon of success. However, Lowenstein was rebuffed in his attempt to take over a Canadian company called Barcelona Traction, Light, and Power, a huge operation building infrastructure in Brazil. In July 1928, while flying on his private aircraft across the English Channel, Lowenstein went to the rear of the plane to use the lavatory. After a noticeable length of time passed, one of his employees went to check on him and reported that Lowenstein had vanished from the plane. The employee (along with the others on the plane) asserted that they believed Lowenstein had fallen through the plane's rear door and had plunged several thousand feet to his death in the English Channel.
News, theories, and recovery of the body
News of Lowenstein's demise caused panic selling in his corporations' publicly traded shares that immediately plummeted in value by more than fifty percent. His body was recovered a few weeks later; an autopsy was performed (at the request of his family) and it revealed no evidence of foul play. His death was the subject of an episode of the History channel's Vanishings! series.
Many theories have been put forward as to exactly what had happened to Lowenstein in the back of his plane; some suspected a criminal conspiracy in which his employees murdered him. The New York Times hypothesised that a growing absent mindedness, noted by many of Lowenstein's acquaintances, may have caused him to walk out the wrong door of the plane. Because he had left behind a tangled web of business ventures, many of which were highly leveraged, others theorized that his business empire was on the verge of collapse. Some even asserted that corrupt business practices were about to be exposed and that Lowenstein, therefore, committed suicide. None of these theories was ever proved.
In 1987, William Norris wrote Lowenstein's story in a book titled The Man Who Fell From the Sky(New York: Viking, 1987). Norris ends up showing many points suggesting if not a conspiracy by business rivals and associates, a certain opportunism regarding the death of the tycoon and his insurance. He also shows that later events are frequently ignored, such as the fact that Lowenstein's son would shoot one of the family servants under murky circumstances within a decade or so of the tragedy. The son eventually died in World War II.
The death of the tycoon has actually had some effect in motion pictures. In the film Such Men Are Dangerous, made in 1931, Warner Baxter plays a tycoon who fakes his death in a private airplane disaster. In the film Gilda(1946) George Macready disappears when his plane apparently explodes while trying to flee the police (subsequently it is learned he parachuted out of the plane. Finally, in Orson Welles' Confidential Report or Mr. Arkadin (1955) his financier Gregory Arkadin does jump out of his private airplane when he believes that his evil past has been revealed to his beloved daughter.
- Aviation accidents and incidents
- Companion in The Most Honourable Order of the Bath
- List of people who died in aviation-related incidents
- Twyford and Thorpe