Samuel Insull Biography

(Business Magnate)

Birthday: November 11, 1859 (Scorpio)

Born In: London, England, United Kingdom

Samuel Insull was an American business magnate of British origin. Known as an innovator and an investor, he had immense contribution in the creation of an integrated electrical infrastructure in the US. He is known for building the Chicago Civic Opera House as well. Insull used to work with one of Thomas Edison’s representatives in London, before he went to the US and became Edison’s private secretary. He was made vice president of the Edison General Electric Company when it was formed. He also became the president of the Chicago Edison Company after three years. All of the electricity in Chicago, by 1907, was provided by his firm, which is now known as the Commonwealth Edison Company. Due to the usage of central power station, his electrical power system was able to extend to most of Illinois, as well as part of several neighboring states. During the Great Depression his corporate empire collapsed and he was accused of fraud by selling worthless stock to unsuspecting investors. Though he fled to Europe and tried to escape extradition, he was eventually made to return to Chicago. He was tried for fraud, violation of bankruptcy laws, as well as embezzlement. However, he managed to get acquitted every time.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 78


Spouse/Ex-: Gladys Wallis (married 1899)

father: Samuel Insull

siblings: Martin

Born Country: England

American Men Scorpio Entrepreneurs

Died on: July 16, 1938

place of death: Paris, France

City: London, England

Cause of Death: Heart Attack

Childhood & Early Life
Samuel Insull was born on 11th November 1859, in London, England, UK. His father’s name was also Samuel Insull, who was a tradesman as well as a lay preacher. His mother’s name was Emma Short.
At the age of 14, he started working as a clerk for different kinds of local businesses. For a while, he worked at the monthly magazine Vanity Fair as well, as a stenographer. Through an advertisement he found in a newspaper, he also became private secretary and bookkeeper of Colonel George Gouraud, the London representative of Thomas A Edison’s telephone companies.
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Samuel Insull immigrated to US at the age of 21, when he learnt about a job in the US, with Thomas Edison himself. Over the next few years, he took a lot of responsibilities of Edison’s business. He took part in founding of Edison General Electric, in January 1889. He was named its vice president after three years. However, he was unhappy with the post. Later he moved to Chicago, as the head of the Chicago Edison Company.
When he was on a trip to Brighton, England, during Christmas, he was surprised to find that all shops were closed, though the lights were burning. He inquired how this was possible as this had not happened in the US ever.
He soon met the town’s electric company’s head, and he learnt that the secret was use of a demand metered billing system, which didn’t measure only total power consumption, but also set rates for low-demand and high-demand electric use times. He soon worked a formula, and was able to offer customers in Chicago, two-tiered electric rates, after which many people found that their bills got lowered by 32 percent in just one year.
He incorporated one more electric utility in 1897, named ‘The Commonwealth Electric Light & Power Co.’ The two companies formally merged eventually and became the Commonwealth Edison Co. Over the years, more and more people got connected to the electric grid, and Insull’s company, which had an exclusive franchise from the city, grew immensely. By 1920, the company had 6000 employees with over 500,000 customers. Its annual revenues were almost $ 40 million.
His holdings in Chicago started including several other utilities such as Federal Signal Corporation, Peoples Gas and Commonwealth Edison. He also owned portions of several railroads, mostly electric interurban lines, which included the Chicago North Shore, Gary Railways and Milwaukee Railroad.
Samuel Insull also developed an interest in broadcasting. He was associated with Chicago’s Civic Opera, and he felt that the medium of radio broadcasting would be an excellent way to bring opera performances directly into people’s homes. He contacted Westinghouse, who was working on establishing a radio station in Chicago. They came to the arrangement that it would be built together and jointly operated by Westinghouse and Commonwealth Edison.
After some time, he also formed the Great Lakes Broadcasting Company in 1927, and also purchased the two radio stations WENR and WBCN. The two were merged eventually on 1st June 1927. WENR became an affiliate of NBC Blue Network later. The Great Lakes Broadcasting Company included a mechanical TV station as well, W9XR, which started in 1929.
The Great Depression
The Wall Street Crash that took place in 1929, which was followed by the Great Depression, led to the eventual collapse of Samuel Insull’s empire. This also wiped out the life savings of 600,000 shareholders. Therefore, Insull was forced to flee the country and go to France.
When the US asked the authorities in France for him to be extradited, Insull moved on to Greece, as Greece had no extradition treaty yet with the US. Eventually, he was arrested and extradited after some time, to the US. He was charged with mail fraud and antitrust. Well-known lawyer Floyd Thompson chose to defend him and Insull was found not-guilty on all counts, and was eventually acquitted.
Family & Personal Life
Samuel Insull got married in May 1899 to an actress named Margaret Anna Bird.
Insull died of a heart attack on 16 July 1938. He was buried near his parents in Putney Vale Cemetery, in London.

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