Insull was born in London in 1859 and emigrated to the United States in 1881. He was employed by Thomas Edison in New York City and soon became his business manager. In 1892 Insull took over the Chicago Edison Company and built it into the mammoth Commonwealth Edison enterprise fifteen years later. This highly leveraged utility empire collapsed in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression and Insull fled to Greece in order to avoid prosecution. He was returned to the United States in 1934 for trial, but was acquitted on charges of mail fraud and antitrust violations. He died, however, four years later at the age of 79.