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Samuel Insull and the Electric City

Samuel Insull and the Electric City

Samuel Insull and the Electric City

Samuel Insull (photo from Edison NHS)
Samuel Insull and Theodore Roosevelt 1917 (photo from Chicago Daily News)
Chicago Loop at night 1929 (photo from Chicago Daily News)
  • Insull born 1859, became secretary to Edison's friend banker George Gourand, became president of Chicgo Edison Company, built the great Commonwealth Edison with new emphasis on consumer use of electricity
  • electrical revolution began in Chicago with the telegraph (Elisha Gray founded Western Electric and moved to Chicago 1869 to manufacture equipment for Western Union), the telephone, and the arc lamp (DC Brush-type arc street lights installed 1878), and Edison DC electric lights (125 bamboo-filament bulbs installed in U.S. Rolling Stock Co. 1881)
  • "burning the lights" was symbol of status, boosterism, affluence
  • Louis Sullivan in 1886 designed the Auditorium theater-office-hotel complex using electric lights for night construction, 5000 bulbs in great hall, in 1889 his Monadnock building of 16 stories was first office building with wiring in original specs
  • Electric trolley came to Chicago 1892, became the largest consumer of electricity in the nation
  • 1893 Chicago World's Fair, Tower of Light, illuminated Ferris Wheel, model electric kitchen displayed, powered by new Westinghouse AC dynamos with rotary converter to switch AC into DC
  • Insull adopted the new converters by 1897, began expansion of electrical network to homes, used Wright demand meter to discount non-peak rates, lowered residential rate from 20 cents/kwh to 13 cents, encouraging more consumption
  • mass market campaign with magazine Electric City
  • department stores, display windows, Marshall Field, Chicago became illuminated sign capital of urban America
  • nickelodeon theaters, Riverview Park with "Scenic Railway" roller coaster
  • by 1912, 80,000 homes wired, new single family "bungalow" emerging that replaced Victorian excess with clean and functional interior space, new emphasis on kitchen and household technology, linoleum, porcelain fixtures, appliances
  • Insull campaign to replace "sadiron" with electrical iron, opened "Electric Shop" for appliances 1909, but slow to be adopted
  • GE refrigerator introduced 1920s with all-steel streamlined model in 1927
  • Insull emphasized finacing rural electrification 1928-35
  • Insull was leader of the "Power Trust" investigated by FTC, suffered in Crash of 1929, lost control of 60 corporations by 1932
  • by 1933, appliances consumed more electricity that lighting in Chicago homes, 50,000 refrigerators sold that year


Marshall Field Department Store 1910 (photo from CD News)
electric trolleys on Clark Street 1906 (photo from Chicago Daily News)
Auditorium dining room1905 (photo from Chicago Daily News) 2 3
suffragettes in Auditorium1914 (photo from Chicago Daily News)


- 2002 by Steven E. Schoenherr. All rights reserved.

revised 12/29/02 | Edison links | Recording Technology History
 
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