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William Insull Papers - MS 1045

Introduction | Biographical Sketch | Scope and Content | Series Description | Inventory


The papers of William Insull, Sr. consist of 1 linear ft. of photographic albums, printed material, and reports. The donation and transfer of these records to the Center for Archival Collections was arranged on June 7, 2006 through the cooperation of his son, William Insull, Jr., who also provided detailed scope and biographical information used extensively in this register.

No restrictions exist on the use of this collection. Duplication is permitted for the purposes of preservation and research. The register was compiled by Marilyn Levinson, Curator of Manuscripts in August 2006.

Biographical Sketch

William Insull was the Western Division Manager of the Northeastern Public Service Corporation, a firm based in New York City for the management of public utilities properties for electricity and water services in small communities scattered around the country during the late 1920s into the 1940s.

The Insull family was active in electrical generating, distributing, and equipment and appliance companies starting from the association of Samuel Insull, an English immigrant, with Thomas Edison since about mid 1880. Samuel Insull was Edison's private secretary and business manager for about 10 years culminating in the organization of the General Electric Company, preceded by the selection of Schenectady, New York for the site of the manufacturing arm of the Edison Companies. Samuel Insull's two brothers and nephews entered the electric business, some with General Electric, as William Insull's father was head of the GE Pittsfield, Massachusetts transformer plant. William Insull, a World War I veteran, was a Cornell University graduated engineer with a certificate in electrical engineering.

With the Northeastern Public Service Corporation's Western Division office located at 109 North Main Street in Bowling Green, Ohio, Insull managed the companies and traveled overseeing the "properties" in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, and Arkansas. William traveled to New York City regularly, frequently via the 20th Century Limited from Toledo, to attend senior management meetings of his parent company.

He was characteristically active in civic affairs, usually by membership of himself or his managers in the local Chamber of Commerce. During this period William lived in Bowling Green with his wife Madge Morris Insull and their two young children, William Insull, Jr., and Gwendolyn Insull. Tragically, his daughter was killed in an automobile accident in 1937. His son, William, Jr., attended Bowling Green Schools, grades 3 through 12, graduating High School with the Class of 1942, later he graduated from the University of Michigan in1945 and the Johns Hopkins University Medical School in 1949. William Insull, Sr. moved his family from Bowling Green shortly after 1942 to manage companies in Western Pennsylvania. He died in 1967 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Scope and Content

The William Insull Papers are a miscellany reflecting his business responsibilities as the Western Division Manager of the Northeastern Public Service Corporation, with the local office in Bowling Green, Ohio. His photographic albums, which are well-labeled both with locations and individuals in the pictures, concentrate upon the utility properties he managed, documenting construction and service installations throughout the district, including Brookville, Indiana, General Utilities from Deshler, Ohio, New London, Ohio, Western Reserve Power and Light in Ohio, Ohio Northern Public Service and City Water, Bowling Green, Dawson Springs, Kentucky, Louisa Water, Louisa, Kentucky, Edwardsville, Illinois, and West Helena, Arkansas, along with their employees. Bowling Green was the largest of the electric and water companies.

With a solid tie to the local community, one interesting feature of his albums is photographic documentation of the First and Second Tomato Festivals in Bowling Green in 1938 and 1939, particularly relevant because of the location of the Heinz processing plant in town. In addition, the albums contain originals of the papers directing the organization and operation of the Festivals, including the selection of the Tomato Queen in a judged contest. Photographs of the parade, which included floats sponsored by local businesses such as Uhlman's and Hankey Lumber, give a nice view of downtown Bowling Green in 1938 and more extensively in 1939.

In addition to pamphlets and cookbooks in the collection showing an aspect of promoting the use of electricity during this period, the photo albums also illustrate how demand for electricity through promotion of appliances was encouraged through cooking demonstrations and equipment displayed in the Electric Company offices. Demonstrations were conducted in small venues such as the office setting, but also in the Bowling Green High School auditorium and the Cla-Zel Theatre. Another novel way of promoting electric appliances, illustrated in the albums with flyers, programs, and cast photographs, was the presentation of a play "Alice in Electric Wonderland" starring a cast of local students from Bowling Green State University and presented at the High School.

As an overview of the range and impact of electrification in small town and rural areas, as well as the standardization of a safe water-supply, the collection provides a glimpse of the technical aspects of equipment and infrastructure, but also the public relations efforts of the utilities to reach out to customers.

Series Description


December 1934
Compiled papers and discussions of the Northeastern Water & Electric Service Corporation executives' meeting held in December 1934 in New York City.

Survey of business in Bowling Green, Ohio, completed for the BG Chamber of Commerce as a project of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration


Books and pamphlets, including cookbooks, appliance guides, home care manuals, and some local historical material; many are associated with his work as the Western Division Manager of the Northeastern Public Service Corporation, a public utilities management firm


Three scrapbooks with photographs, programs, reports, and other material; individual albums labeled Business Pictures 1933, Business Pictures 1934- 1938, and Business Pictures 1939-1942


Box 1


  1. Northeastern Water & Electric Service Corporation Executives' Meeting, December 1934
  2. Survey of business in Bowling Green, Ohio, 1934?
  3. Instruction and recipe book for users of Hotpoint...1922
  4. Home equipment primer, 1928
  5. Ohio Revolutionary Memorial Trail: map, 1930
  6. The New Art [cookbook] General Electric, 1933
  7. This is the day of super-power, 1933
  8. Van Tassel, C.S. Story of Fort Meigs, 1933
  9. O'Brien, Harry R. Writings of the Plain Dirt Gardener, 1934
  10. How to buy meats for home consumption, 1936
  11. Neumode Hosiery Cookbook, 1937
  12. The Heinz salad book [cookbook], 1930s
  13. Dirt takes a holiday [Electric Vacuum Cleaner Co.], 1940
  14. Hotpointers for a Merry Christmas [Hotpoint], 1940
  15. American Red Cross First Aid Text-Book, 1940

Box 2 (Oversize Flat)


  1. Album - Business Pictures, 1933
  2. Album - Business Pictures, 1934-1938
  3. Album - Business Pictures, 1939-1942

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