Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (March 13, 1911 – January 24, 1986), better known by his pen name L. Ron Hubbard (and often referred by his initials, LRH), was an American science fiction author, who developed a self-help system called Dianetics which was first published in 1950. Over the following three decades Hubbard developed his self-help ideas into a wide-ranging set of doctrines and rituals as part of a new religion he called Scientology. Hubbard's writings became the guiding texts for the Church of Scientology and a number of affiliated organizations that address such diverse topics such as business administration, literacy and drug rehabilitation.
Hubbard was a controversial public figure, and many details of his life are still disputed. Official Scientology biographies present him as a "larger-than-life" figure whose career is studded with admirable accomplishments in an astonishing array of fields. Many of these assertions are disputed by former Scientologists and researchers not connected with Scientology, who have written accounts that are sharply critical of Hubbard.
Lafayette Ronald Hubbard was born on March 13, 1911, in Tilden, Nebraska to Ledora May Waterbury and Harry Ross Hubbard. He was their only child. His thick red hair led friends to nickname him "Brick". Since Harry Hubbard was in the Navy, the family had to move as Harry was reassigned to new posts. While living on a family ranch in Kalispell, Montana, Hubbard stated he had befriended medicine man Old Tom and undergone a ceremony to become a blood brother to the Blackfeet Indians. While living on the Puget Sound in 1923, L. Ron Hubbard joined the Boy Scouts of America and became an Eagle Scout at age 13. In 1930, Hubbard was reported in the Washington Evening Star as having been the youngest Eagle Scout in the United States at the time. According to the Boy Scouts of America, their documents at the time were only kept in alphabetical order with no reference to their ages and thus there was no way of telling who was the youngest.
Between 1927 and 1929, Hubbard traveled twice to the Far East with his parents during his father's posting to the United States Navy base on Guam. While in Guam, Hubbard was befriended by Commander Joseph "Snake" Thompson (1874–1943), who had recently returned from Vienna studying with Sigmund Freud, and was stationed as a member of the Naval Medical Corps. Through the course of their friendship, the commander spent many afternoons teaching Hubbard about the human mind.
Church biographies published from the 1950s to the 1970s stated that with "the financial support of [his] wealthy grandfather" Hubbard journeyed throughout Asia, "studying with holy men" in northern China, India, and Tibet. Hubbard said on several occasions that he visited India; Jon Atack, former Scientologist and prominent Scientology critic, disputes the possibility that this ever took place. Hubbard said that he was made a lama priest by Old Mayo the Beijing magician in the Western Hills of China after a year as a neophyte. According to Atack, Hubbard's diaries were used as evidence in the Armstrong trial and make no mention of Old Mayo or Eastern philosophy.
After studies at Swavely Preparatory School in Manassas, Virginia and graduating from Woodward School for Boys in 1930, Hubbard enrolled at The George Washington University where he majored in civil engineering. There he became one of eight assistant editors of the University newspaper The University Hatchet. While spending most of his time on extracurricular activities such as the university gliding club, Hubbard received extremely poor grades. University records show that after two semesters he had received an A for physical education, B for English, C for engineering, D for chemistry and Fs for German and calculus. Despite being placed on academic probation, Hubbard continued to neglect his studies, preferring to write stories for the school newspaper and literary magazine. He again earned failing grades in his second year—two Ds and an F in Calculus and Physics classes, and a B in English. Hubbard left the university after only two years and never earned a college degree.
During World War II, Hubbard attended a four-month course in military government at the Naval Training School, located at Princeton. Hubbard later asserted he was a nuclear physicist. One of his classes was among the country's first schools offering curriculum in molecular and atomic physics – he failed the course. The Church denies that he ever made that assertion, despite the fact that Hubbard asserted expertise in radiation exposure on the human body in the book All About Radiation (co-authored by Hubbard in 1957).
After leaving George Washington University, Hubbard worked as a writer and aviator. In June 1932 Hubbard headed the "Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition", a two-and-a-half-month, voyage aboard a chartered , four-masted schooner called the Doris Hamlin with over fifty fellow college students. Its purpose was to collect floral and reptilian specimens for the University of Michigan and to film re-creations of pirate activity and haunts. The voyage was a disappointment, with only three of the sixteen planned ports of call visited. Hubbard later called it "a two-bit expedition and a financial bust".
Hubbard was accepted as a member of The Explorers Club on February 19, 1940. In December of that year Hubbard was licensed by the United States Department of Commerce to legally operate steam and motor vessels. In 1961 Hubbard carried the Explorers Club flag for his "Ocean Archaeological Expedition" and in 1966 was awarded custody of the Explorers Club flag for the "Hubbard Geological Survey Expedition".
On February 10, 1953 Hubbard was awarded an honorary Ph.D. by Sequoia University, California, "in recognition of his outstanding work and contributions in the fields of Dianetics and Scientology." This non-accredited body was closed by the California state courts 30 years later after it was investigated by California authorities on the grounds of being a mail-order "degree mill". In 2009 The Times revealed that the British Government's Department of Health had investigated the provenance of this degree, and had concluded that Hubbard had bought Sequoia University and awarded the PhD to himself.
In 1941, Hubbard entered the U.S. Navy and served a public relations role. He was able to skip the initial officer rank of Ensign and was commissioned a Lieutenant, Junior Grade for service in the Office of Naval Intelligence. He was unsuccessful there, and after some difficulty with other assignments found himself in charge of a submarine chaser.
In May 1943, while taking the USS PC-815 on her shakedown cruise to San Diego, Hubbard attacked what he believed to be two enemy submarines, ten miles (16 km) off the coast of Oregon. The battle took two days and involved at least four other US vessels plus two blimps, summoned for reinforcements and resupply. Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, Commander Northwest Sea Frontier concluded after reviewing trip data and other captains' accounts that there were no submarines in the area at the time. Hubbard and Tom Moulton, one of the ship's officers, subsequently said that the authorities' denials of any Japanese submarine presence off the Pacific coast had been motivated by a desire to avoid panic among the U.S. population.
In June 1943, Hubbard was relieved of command after anchoring PC-815 off the Coronado Islands, which is Mexican territory. There, he conducted unauthorised gunnery practice. An official complaint from Mexican authorities, coupled with his failure to return to base as ordered, led to a Board of Investigation. It was determined that Hubbard had disregarded orders, and he was given the punishment of a formal warning and was transferred to other duties. Since this was the third leadership position Hubbard had lost during his tenure, he was not given command authority on his next assignment. It was later reported that Hubbard had been relieved of command twice, and was the subject of negative reports from his superiors on several occasions. He won some praise, being described as a "capable and energetic" officer, "if temperamental", an "above-average navigator", and as possessing "excellent personal and military character".