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CRA500 -- Electric Railway Collection

CRA 500: Photographs


0.25 Linear Feet

The Electric Railway Collection comprises photographs, negatives, timetables, printed materials, journals and magazines, blueprints, and related paper-based materials documenting the history of electric rail in the United States. A variety of sources have been sought to acquire the holdings and build this resource for use by students, scholars, and the general public. An inventory for the Electric Railway Collection will be constructed in the future to provide researchers with information on the Collection's contents.

Of special note is a series of personal papers from Samuel Insull. Correspondence, writings, pamphlets, photographs, and awards constitute the Insull Series. Samuel Insull was known as one of the "Giants" of industry, similar to Rockefeller, Huntington, and Mellon. While in his native England, Insull was the private secretary and bookkeeper for Col. George E. Gouraud, the London agent for Thomas Edison. He so impressed Edison that in 1881 he was invited to be his personal secretary. In 1889, Insull became an executive with General Electric. In 1892 Insull gave up the vice-presidency of General Electric and moved to Chicago to become president of the Chicago Edison Company which in 1907 became Commonwealth Edison. It was in Chicago that he began to assemble his empire of utility and transportation companies.

The Chicago Edison Company supplied power to a low-voltage, direct-current network of incandescent lights. As a pioneer of "Lighting Up Chicago," he was known as a developer of railway lines, the gas industry, as well as Commonwealth Edison. His Chicago holdings eventually included Commonwealth Edison, People's Gas, the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, and many more utilities. Insull led many innovations, including mass production of electricity that made electricity cheap and widely available.

A natural outgrowth of electric utility companies was their ownership of electric railroads, such as interurbans (North Shore Line, South Shore Line, and the Chicago, Aurora, and Elgin) and streetcar systems, which were largely electricity consumers. Insull acquired and rehabilitated during the 1910s and 1920s the major Chicago area interurbans and the rapid transit lines that were merged into the Chicago Rapid Transit Company. It is unlikely that these interurbans would have survived the Great Depression without Insull's capital improvements.


Box File Description

Subject Tracings

  • Civil Defense
  • Garyettes
  • Second World War