See studies by F. McDonald (1962) and J. F. Wasik (2006).
(born Nov. 11, 1859, London, Eng.—died July 19, 1938, Paris, France) British-born U.S. public-utilities magnate. He moved to the U.S. in 1881 to become the private secretary of Thomas Alva Edison and rose to become president of the Chicago Edison Co. in 1892. By 1907 he had taken control of Chicago's transit system. By 1912 his vast electric-power system, enlarged by various mergers, was operating several hundred power plants. He vigorously promoted the stock of his holding companies. When they collapsed in 1932, he fled to Europe; extradited in 1934, he was tried three times for fraud, violation of bankruptcy laws, and embezzlement but was acquitted each time.
Learn more about Insull, Samuel with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Samuel Insull (November 11, 1859 – July 16, 1938) was an Anglo-American investor based in Chicago who was known for purchasing utilities and railroads. He contributed to creating an integrated electrical infrastructure in the United States. He was also responsible for the building of the Chicago Civic Opera House in 1929.
Insull began purchasing portions of the utility infrastructure of the city. When it became clear that Westinghouse's support of alternating current was to win out over Edison's direct current, Insull switched his support to AC.
His Chicago area holdings came to include what is now Federal Signal Corporation,Commonwealth Edison, Peoples Gas, and the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, and held shares of many more utilities. Insull also owned significant portions of many railroads, mainly electric interurban streetcar lines, including the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad, Chicago Rapid Transit Company, Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad, and Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad. He helped modernize 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. He saw that federal and state regulation would recognize electric utilities as natural monopolies, allowing them to grow with little competition and to sell electricity to broader segments of the market. He used economies of scale to overcome market barriers by cheaply producing electricity with large steam turbines. This made it easier to put electricity into homes.
At the time of their marriage, Insull was forty-one and Gladys was twenty-four. She had been on the stage from childhood. The Insulls lived outside Libertyville, Illinois, in a Spanish Revival mansion with extensive grounds now known as the Cuneo Museum, in Vernon Hills. The Insulls had one son, Samuel Jr.
Orson Welles' masterpiece "Citizen Kane" is in part based on the life of Samuel and Gladys Insull. Playwright Herman J. Mankiewicz based Susan Alexander’s catastrophic operatic debut in “Citizen Kane” on Gladys Wallis Insull’s New York role as Lady Teazle in a charity revival of “A School for Scandal.” The review of Susan Alexander's debut in Kane echoes Mankiewicz's actual 1925 review of Gladys Insull. His 1925 review began: "As Lady Teazle, Mrs. Insull is as pretty as she is diminutive; with a clear smile and dainty gestures. There is a charming grace in her bearing that makes for excellent deportment. But Lady Teazle seems much too innocent to lend credit to her part in the play."
Insull fled the country to Greece, but was later extradited back to the United States by Turkey to face federal prosecution on mail fraud and antitrust charges. He was defended by famous Chicago lawyer Floyd Thompson and found not guilty on all counts.
He is reputed to have died penniless, but he did not. The myth started when his corpse was looted by a Parisian for his wallet.
While her husband was alive, Mrs. Gladys Insull had vowed never to return to Chicago and the society that had shunned her. She eventually became homesick for her family and returned to stay in Chicago with her son Sam Insull Jr. She died on September 23, 1953. Gladys Insull, her son Samuel Insull, Jr. and his wife and son, Samuel III are buried in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery.