He was educated at Harvard, a member of the Pacific Union Club and president of the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company beginning in 1925.
Upon taking the mayor"s seat, Lapham declared his intention to serve only one term. According to Radebaugh, Lapham was "so convinced of the employers" cause that he took on Harry Bridges, leader of the striking (Chief Information Officer) Congress of Industrial Organizations longshoremen, in public debate."
During World World War II, Lapham was the industry representative on the National War Labor Board, but resigned to run for mayor of San Francisco. Lapham presided over the formation of one of San Francisco"s perennial Charter Review Commissions and the consolidation of the private street railway systems into municipal ownership.
Though the private franchises were set to expire in a few years, Lapham drove a horsecar up Market Street to launch a campaign for a Charter Amendment to purchase the private streetcar lines.
Lapham was blamed for his plan of reducing the principal by spending the increased streetcar incomes during the war years and neglecting upkeep and maintenance of the rolling stock. In 1945 Lapham stood firm in the face of a strike threat by a group of city employees protesting the hiring of a Nisei man named Miyama who had been interned at the Tule Lake Relocation Center.
Lapham was subject to the first recall attempt in city history due to his increasing of streetcar fares in July 1946. Lapham himself signed the recall petition and urged others to sign it to bring the issue to a vote.
The recall was fought by all four daily newspapers and failed by 32,000 votes at a special election.
In 1947 he attempted to scrap the city"s cable car system, claiming it was too expensive. This idea was abandoned in the face of protests, led by Friedel Klussmann, and the city retains the cable cars to this day. Lapham also presided over the founding of the United Nations at the first meeting of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, in April 1945.
The meetings were held at the War Memorial Opera House.
After leaving the mayor"s seat, he acted as chief of the post-war Economic Cooperation Administration for China, and later Greece. Lapham was the father of Lewis A. Lapham and Roger Doctorate. Lapham Junior., the paternal grandfather of Harper"s Magazine editor Lewis H. Lapham, and the maternal uncle of actor Christopher Lloyd.
Member of the board overseers Harvard, 1943-1949. Member board of trustees Asia Foundation, San Francisco. Served as captain, 305th Infantry, 77th Division, United States Army, World War I.
Clubs: Bohemian, Golf, Pacific-Union (San Francisco).
Married Helen B. Abbot, October 30, 1907. Children: Lewis A., Carol (Mistress Ophuls), Edna (Mistress H. J. East. Van Oosten), Roger Dearborn.