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Samuel Insull | Lionbliss Research


Samuel Insull (November 11, 1859 – July 16, 1938) was a British-born American business magnate. He was an innovator and investor based in Chicago who greatly contributed to create an integrated electrical infrastructure in the United States. Insull created holding companies that purchased utilities and railroads. Insull was responsible for the building of the Chicago Civic Opera House in 1929.[1] Due to the Great Depression, his vast Midwest holding company empire collapsed, and he was accused of profiting personally by selling worthless stock to unsuspecting investors who trusted him because of his position and reputation. Following a seven-week trial, he and 16 co-defendants were acquitted of all charges after two hours of jury deliberation.[2][3][4][5]

  • Insull's career began as an apprentice clerk for various local businesses at age 14. He went on to become a stenographer at Vanity Fair.[7] Through a newspaper ad, the 19-year-old became the private secretary and bookkeeper to Colonel George Gouraud, the London representative of Thomas Edison's telephone companies.

  • Samuel Insull also had interests in broadcasting. On hearing of the work of Westinghouse to establish a radio station in Chicago, he contacted the company. Together the two companies arranged for a radio station to be built in Chicago which would be operated jointly by Commonwealth Edison and Westinghouse. KYW's first home was the roof of the Edison Company building at 72 West Adams Street in Chicago, and it went on the air November 11, 1921. It was Chicago's first radio station.[14]

  • Though the partnership came to an end in 1926, with Westinghouse buying out Edison's interest in KYW, Insull's interest in broadcasting did not stop there. He formed the Great Lakes Broadcasting Company in 1927 and purchased Chicago radio stations WENR and WBCN; the two stations were merged on June 1, 1927, with Insull paying a million dollars for WENR alone. Insull moved the stations first into the Strauss Building, then into Insull's Civic Opera House, where WENR became an affiliate of the NBCBlue Network. Insull's Great Lakes Broadcasting Company also included a mechanical television station, W9XR, which began in 1929 after the company installed the first 50,000 watt radio transmitter in Chicago for its two radio stations.[15][16]

  • On May 22, 1899,[20] Samuel Insull married a "tiny, exquisitely beautiful and clever"[21]Broadway ingénue actress whose stage name was (Alis) Gladys Wallis (1875–September 23, 1953). Her real name was Margaret Anna Bird.[20][22]Both husband and wife were patrons of the arts. Because of this Insull was instrumental in the building of Chicago's Civic Opera House, which opened November 4, 1929, with Aida. The opera and its cast were chosen by Insull.[7] Samuel Insull was also known for his charitable works in other areas, donating large sums of money to local hospitals, then calling on others with similar resources to do the same.

  • He donated freely to African-American charities in Chicago, asking the wealthy to follow his example. At the time the US entered WWI, Insull was named head of the Illinois Defense Council by President Woodrow Wilson; his efforts sold over a million dollars of War Bonds.[10]

  • Insull's legacies included electricity grid systems[32][33] and the regulated monopoly, a uniquely American institution that included utility companies. This came from a combination of his business persona and his political one. On the one hand, he abhorred the waste of competing power producers, whose inefficiency would often double the cost of production. On the other hand, he believed in the citizen's right to fair treatment. So while he bought up rival companies and created a monopoly, he kept his prices low and campaigned vigorously for regulation.[34]


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