His fathers name was Samuel Edison and Thomas was born in Ohio in 1847. By 1876 Thomas Edison had his lab set up and cranking out electrical things that actually functioned. Not bad for a HOME SCHOOLED kid. By the age of 29 Edison figured out how to generate and distribute electricity to users to light their homes and power their machinery which he was instrumental in creating. The Phonograph was improved upon and patented by Edison so that it became a fixture in homes until even today.
The light bulb was improved by an assistant named Hammer. Until then it lasted only a short time before burning out. Mass production of his Patents, guaranteed income to keep the lab running. Most inventors were happy just inventing, not Edison, Manufacturing on large scale earned the money. Edison bought many original patents, Volta's light bulb, being one, then improved their usefulness. Edison's lab created knowledge then controlled it's application. Edison Light Company in New York was one of his first companies dedicated to the distribution of electricity.
Direct Current (DC) was his favorite method of power. DC was only functional for a few miles due to the line loss of the current, so it was only used around the city centers close to the big electric power plants. Big investors like John .P Morgan and Vanderbilt family heirs made the New York power company possible. The United Kingdom also generated and distributed their power by an affiliate branch of Edison's electric Company's.
Alternating Current was promoted by an assistant in Edison's lab by the name of Nikola 'Tesla'. Edison did not like AC that competed with his DC current, and made life difficult for Tesla. He would not give Tesla a raise from 18 dollars a week to 25 dollars, so Tesla quit.
George Westinghouse was more than happy to help Tesla and they took Tesla's AC and promoted it against Edison's DC. Edison was so upset he said AC was unsafe and electrocuted animals to prove it in front of observers, even an elephant. The demos were so effective the electric chair was one of the patents to come out of it.
Edison's DC was still in use in Downtown Chicago through the second world war. (it also recharged the City's big, chain drive electric trucks overnight) DC was still being used in NYC until 2005 for about 1,600 users. (escalators and heavy current machines close to downtown)
Now comes another extremely important parallel story. In London a young, self educated office clerk, from a poor background, that had a way with accounting and worked for the UK branch of Edison's electric co, was noticed for his intensity and proficiency with numbers. Edison brought him to NY to manage the accounting of the Edison Power co.
Edison liked him so well, that he was put to work as his overall secretary of finances. the stage was then set for one of the most spectacular events in the history of the United States. 'Samuel Insull' was 21 years old in 1881, within ten years he rose in management of the Edison facilities. Edison 'General Electric', was his first big appointment. Known to us today as 'GE'.. Chicago (Commonwealth) Edison soon had a new president, 'Samuel Insull'.
'Samuel Insull' liked the idea of George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla's Alternating Current (AC) much better because it could be transmitted for hundreds of miles then continually reboosted by transformers and sent all the way across the nation theoretically. Insull had bigger ideas for the use of electricity than to just provide power to the wealthy core city dwellers.
Using AC provided by massive new 'Westinghouse' generators Insull envisioned, the stage was set for expansive development of the future's extended communities Samuel Insull had in mind.
Insull correctly reasoned that if a light rail transportation system powered by Edison's control systems, with overhead wires, extended outward from the city core, it would make reasonably priced, Non-Polluting, Mass Transportation, available to the future outlying communities he envisioned. New communities where the living was much more free of congestion and 'The good Life' was attainable for all.
Edison was bought out for 2 million dollars and left behind the inventors life, to move to retirement in Florida where his good friend and neighbor was Henry Ford.
Along the way to business success, Insull met and hired Henry Villiard, a man that understood all too well the methods of using 'leveraged' money to obtain even more lines of credit and stock in the future. Insull was impressed and took the new found knowledge to it's extreme.
Insull bought 'right of way' and created new mass transportation, Electric Light Rail systems in the Chicago area so that the electric power the Edison Company generated by coal fired steam, at the Harrison street station, could be put to full use. The Chicago 'L' (elevated) system was one, as was the North Shore (Skokie) and the South Shore CRT, (still in use today) The North Shore line was dismantled during the 'cheap oil' days of the 1960's. The copper wire was stolen for profit. How short sighted we are. Insull was much more 'Environmentally Green' than anyone ever imagined.
Insull also knew the full advantage of owning the light rail system, being that the 'right of way' for the electric rail system, could also be used for the distribution system, of high Tension, High Voltage towers for electric power to the suburbs that Insull envisioned around the hub cities. they are still used today to power one of the most dynamic industrial areas in the United States. The fact that the suburbs are now 'self sustaining' cities of their own, was one reason for the demise of the Mass Transit Light Rail system Insull put in place.
Insull, using the financial system he learned from Henry Villiard, was in debt 500 million, with his own capital at only about 27 million dollars. The rail system was dragging down the earnings of the power companies. Insull tried to sell the 'L' to the city of Chicago, but they did not want the burden. Insull modernised the CRT in 1926 using his own money and that of thousands of small investors. Insull encouraged investment in 'Middle West Utilities' by the employees of which there were 100's of thousands.
A 'House of Cards' was under construction. Samuel Insull had invented 'The Holding Company'. Federal Laws to regulate utility holding companies, 'funding to assets ratio', came in 1935, after the house of cards had already collapsed.
The light rail cars test driven by Insull on the day of completion in 1926, were still in use until only a few years back. Insull liked quality. The financial drag of a slowing economy, proved to be way too much for even Insull, With no more financial backing forthcoming from the big investors in the East, the downward free fall known as the 'Great Depression' of 1929 began. Buchanon Dam with it's hydro electric power generation in Texas, was begun in 1931 by Insull. By 1932 all, including Insull, who had used his wealth trying to save his dream, had no cash nest egg set aside, were finished. Insull tried to pour his last remaining wealth onto the 'burning fire' in an attempt to smother it, only to have it consumed along with the rest.
Insull was definitely of more character and moral structure than the 'ENRON' type execs of the recent past and today. Insull 'went down with his beloved ship', while trying desperately to save it. He made trips to New York in efforts to secure more financial backing from the wealthy investors like Jack .P. Morgan Jr, Mcgraw, who built Insull's massive generators, Vanderbilt heirs, and Rockefeller, only to be turned away.
A power struggle seemed to be one factor in the equation. J.P. Morgan Jr wanted the power center for control of the economy, to be New York and viewed the dynamic Chicago as a threat. The Knowledge was present, that the NY financiers could buy the burned out remains of the Insull electrical power generation empire for pennies on the dollar.... after the fall.
The 1920's were referred to, as The Roaring twenties', due to the overall peoples misguided attitude, that tomorrow would bring even more wealth than today. The High Rolling, gambling on the future, investors, Drastically over extended and borrowed ever more money to buy 'stock'. Greed by everyone involved, was very obviously a huge factor as well.
As the market began it's drastic convulsions 'start, stop' fall, Insull sold everything he owned and threw his remaining wealth at it, but it was of no avail, as the Stock Market fell towards the inevitable abyss, frantic stockholders who had gambled their entire future, went into total dispare, knowing that they had lost everything. 1929 will be remembered as a great teacher in economics, for those that learn from History. The others will never learn except by the repeated hard way.
Pursued by angry creditors, Insull fled to Europe. by 1934 Insull was brought back to the USA to stand against charges. Insull was exonerated of all charges filed against him. Charges that were brought about by an administration in Washington, seeking to place blame for the 'Great Depression' of 1929, on someone, anyone, sound familiar? Insull was the biggest Political target for the day and the News Media was merciless, as it is today. He died of a heart attack in Paris, 1938, while walking to the subway gate. A 'Parisian' robbed and emptied his wallet of whatever cash he carried. Hence the ''world news" story was that he died a pauper, 'penniless'. As they reported, 'He got what he deserved'. As usual the 'Rabid' media, was far from the truth, as History has continually shown.
His devastated wife Gladys, returned to Chicago where all of her 'fair weather' friends had 'shunned' her. Gladys lived with her Son, Sammy Jr, as my Grandparents called him, until her death in 1953. Samuel Insull's last namesake died in 1997 with the death of Samuel Insull the third. Sam Insull's life story was published by his Son in a book called simply "Memoirs". 1961 was when the story was turned over to a publisher. My mother had a copy. 'Sammy Jr', was her playmate as a child.
The main reason for the subject matter of this posting was 'Blogengeezers' own Grandfather was 'THE' private Chauffer for Samuel Insull through all of those years and drove out of the Insull Estate at Hawthorne Farms, each morning before dawn, for the trip into Chicago, to return after dark. The estate was south of Libertyville Illinois. The Cuneo Museum is now on the farm site of the Insull Estate. I remember as a kid riding by those big iron gates and Grandpa telling many a story about many a trip leading out of them to 'the City'.
Grandfather drove a huge V16 Cadillac Limo (no power steering or power brakes) with an open driver compartment, similar to Mrs Meany's limousine in 'Little Orphan Annie'. Grandpa told many stories of speeds up over 110 miles per hour, Police motorcycle escorts could not keep up, delivering 'The Old Man' to important meetings or chauffeuring countless numbers of entertainment and film stars, to and from the Insull Estate for big gatherings. Entertainment and Film stars were supported mainly by the wealthy 'Patrons of the Arts', in those days. .
Grandfather wore a bearskin 'Great Coat' with bearskin gloves and bearskin hat similar to the ones worn by Russians in old pictures. Blogengeezer played on Holloween, as a kid, with the attire, to scare other trick or treater's. Sorry to not protect those things but I still have the leather 'lap robe' he used, while waiting for hours outside Chicago's great business buildings, at all hours of the night and day. A copper plaque presented and signed to Samuel Insull, by Thomas Edison, is still in the attic. The 'Old Man' Insull was a true visionary.
Grandmother was the provider for the Insull Farm boarding house threshing crews at the Insull Estate 'working farm' where they lived. She became a fantastic cook. The Hawthorne school was nearby. Blogengeezers mother was driven to parochial school in the 'limo', driven by the 'chauffeur', her dad. Mom, who owned a 'Paint' horse named Boots, and knew how to shoot, was embarrassed by all of the attention.
My Grandparents saw the face of Samuel Insull grow older day by day, as the failure in his dream materialised. Each trip, to attempt to save the nation from what he saw happening, aged him. Grandfather saw and read the outcome.
Before Samuel Insull left for Europe, he made sure my Grandfather and my uncle who drove Mrs Gladys Insull, had a job at the Commonwealth Edison Company in Chicago, for the rest of his life. My Grand parents invested only what spare money they could afford, in the 'stock market that seemed to have no where to go but up'. When the 'bottom finally dropped out', they lost that amount only,. Obviously greed was not in their hearts. My Grandparents, who were treated extremely well by Samuel Insull, dearly loved the entire Insull family.
The great power 'Grid' you are now on, in the United States of America, to receive the electricity used in your everyday existence, was the dream of that one man, that I heard countless stories about, all of my younger life...'SAMUEL INSULL'. Remember that name when your furnace comes on to warm your home, when the air conditioner cools it, and all of the electrical marvels you enjoy today. Thomas Edison
References; Wikipedia, PBS documentary on the 'Most Influential Men' in the creation of the United States, and the book 'Memoirs'.