Insull, Samuel

Insull, Samuel

(ĭn`səl), 1859–1938, American public utilities financier, b. London. He arrived in the United States in 1881 and was employed by Thomas A. EdisonEdison, Thomas Alva,
1847–1931, American inventor, b. Milan, Ohio. A genius in the practical application of scientific principles, Edison was one of the greatest and most productive inventors of his time.
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 as a private secretary. He later became prominent in the management of the Edison industrial holdings. By 1907 he overcame competing public utilities companies in Chicago and soon controlled the city's transit system. After numerous mergers he expanded his operations throughout Illinois and into neighboring states. He eventually formed (1912) a mammoth interlocking directorate that operated over 300 steam plants, almost 200 hydroelectric generating plants, and numerous other power plants throughout the United States. His companies flourished in the 1920s, but in 1932 his empire collapsed. Insull went to Greece, then Turkey. Extradited (1934) to the United States, he faced fraud and embezzlement charges (1934–35) but was acquitted.

Bibliography

See studies by F. McDonald (1962) and J. F. Wasik (2006).

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Insull, Samuel

(1859–1938) public utilities executive; born in London, England. A bookkeeper for one of Thomas Edison's agents in England, he came to America in 1881 to be Edison's personal secretary. By 1889 Insull was vice-president of Edison General Electric Company in Schenectedy, N.Y. In 1892 he became president of Chicago Edison Company, and by 1907 all of Chicago's electricity was being generated by Insull's Commonwealth Edison Company, a tribute to his economic management. He pioneered in unifying rural electrification and also in supplying gas. His vast empire of utility companies had been financed by the sale of stock, and after the stock market collapsed in 1929, his empire also went under. In 1932 he fled to Greece but he was forced to return to Chicago in 1934. He was tried on mail fraud, bankruptcy, and embezzlement charges but was acquitted. Some felt he had been made the scapegoat for the whole stock market debacle. Bankrupt, he was reduced to living off modest pensions during his final years in Europe.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.