George Bernard Shaw Got His Start with Edison and Insull

Deck: 

Samuel Insull interviewed George Bernard Shaw, then put him to work at Edison Telephone Company in the battery room, in the basement.

Today in Fortnightly

Was reading, for fun, “The Memoirs of Samuel Insull.” 

Insull wrote the autobiography in the summer of 1934.

As the Depression deepened in 1932, Insull’s extensive utility holding company had collapsed. The press, public and politicians found a scapegoat. After several attempts to extradite him from Europe, U.S. authorities took him off a ship to stand trial in three high-profile cases.

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Insull, the man who went from Thomas Edison’s secretary to the inventor of utility regulation, was acquitted on all charges. 

In the memoirs, we learn that the great man of literature, George Bernard Shaw, got his first job working for Edison and Insull.

Edison fiercely competed with Alexander Graham Bell in the development and marketing of the telephone. In 1879, Insull worked in the London operations of Edison’s telephone business.

The telephone was still a novelty then. Edison sent to London several young laboratory assistants, “who called themselves electricians.” They set up a demonstration for a lecture by Professor Barrett of Trinity College.

The Professor’s nephew? George Bernard Shaw. The Professor asked Edison if young Shaw could have a job at the Edison Telephone Company.

At the age of twenty-three, Shaw came with little but a letter of introduction. Insull interviewed him, then put him to work. In the battery room, in the basement of #11 Queen Victoria Street, in the city.

Shaw refers to this incident in the preface of his 1905 novel, The Irrational Knot.

Shaw stayed with the Edison Telephone Company for two years. When it merged with Bell Telephone Company, Shaw left for his literary career. 

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He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925, for writing the plays Man and Superman, Pygmalion, Saint Joan, and much more. Pygmalion was further popularized much later in the form of the musical My Fair Lady.


The magazine for commentary, opinion and debate on, and history of, utility regulation and policy since 1928, Public Utilities Fortnightly.

Steve Mitnick, Editor-in-Chief, Public Utilities Fortnightly

E-mail me: mitnick@fortnightly.com