Samuel Insull

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Cover of Time Magazine (November 29, 1926)

Samuel Insull (1859July 16, 1938) was a investor who was primarily known in Chicago, Illinois for purchasing utilities and railroads. He contributed to creating an integrated electrical infrastructure in the United States.

Contents

Early life

Samuel Insull was born in London and immigrated to the United States as a young man. He worked for and later with Thomas Edison, and is credited with being one of the founders of General Electric.

Life in Chicago

In 1892, Insull moved to Chicago and began purchasing portions of the utility infrastructure of the city. When it became clear that Westinghouse's use of alternating current was to dominate over Edison's direct current, Insull switched to backing AC current.

His Chicago area holdings came to include Commonwealth Edison, People's Gas, the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, and portions of many more utilities. He also owned significant portions of many railroads, including Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad, Chicago Rapid Transit Co., Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad, and Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad. He helped electrify these railroads and others.

As a result of owning all these diverse companies, Insull is credited with being one of the early proponents for regulation of industry, allowing all companies to be able to sell electricity to any place on the market. He used economy of scale to overcome market barriers by cheaply producing electricity with large steam turbines. This made it easier to put electricity into homes.

Great Depression

Insull lost everything in the Great Depression. He was vilified in the United States for being a monopolist and contributing to the heavy speculation that was believed to have been the cause of the Great Depression. Insull left the United States, but returned for a trial for over anti-trust charges. Insull was vindicated. He died of a heart attack on a subway in Paris, France. He is reputed to have died penniless. He was not. The myth started when Insull was laying dead on the stairs in a metro station, his corpse was looted by a Parsian for his wallet.

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