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Alfred Fremont Potts

Alfred Fremont Potts, of Indianapolis, a lawyer by profession, has become most widely known to the people of Indiana through his skill and success in promoting large business organizations, and partic ularly for his plan for the control in the public interest of public utilities. In this field he has done notable pioneer work and has undoubtedly contributed to the solution of many vexatious problems connected with the relations of large public corporations with the people in general.


He was born at Richmond, Indiana, October 29, 1856. His father, Dr. Alfred Potts, died while serving as a surgeon in the Union army during the Civil war. Until twelve years of age Alfred F. Potts had only the advantages of the common schools. He educated himself by a course of persistent reading and early developed his inclination for organization work by the promotion of a literary club and a moot court. Later he read law, and was admitted to the bar of Marion County by courtesy in 1876, while still under age.

In 1877 he formed a law partnership with John L. Griffiths, later reporter of the Supreme Court of Indiana and further distinguished by his long service as United States cons ul general to London. Mr. Griffiths was an orator of exceptional merit, while Mr. Potts was noted for his skill in the preparation of a case for trial. Early in its career the firm undertook some of the most utterly hopeless criminal cases that co uld be imagined, but they fought them with such vim that they received columns of free advertising through the newspaper reports, and very soon were in the paths of an active practice. This partnership lasted twenty-five years and was abandoned rather than dissolved through the absorption of Mr. Griffiths in politics and of Mr. Potts in various enterprises, one of which consisted in the redemption of a certain portion of a residence street from shanties which were replaced by artistic high class residences and became known as "The Street of Political Good Fortune".

Mr. Potts first came into public prominence as an organizer of natural gas in Indiana there was naturally an effort on the part of capitalists to control the supply and reap the profits from it. On the Other hand there was strong sentiment for giving the public the benefit. At this time, when the people of Indianapolis seemed hopelessly barred from attaining the public benefit, through lack of funds, Mr. Potts brought forward the then novel proposition of the Consumers Gas Trust. It was a proposal for a company in which the voting power of the stockholders was irrevocably lodged in a board of self-perpetuating trustees, while the earnings of the stockholders were restricted to 8 per cent interest and the repayment of the face value of the stock. When this repayment was made the trust remained for the public benefit to furnish gas at cost. It was more than a solution of the existing problem. Many competent authorities and critics have regarded it as a practical plan for controlling all public utilities for public benefit, with all the advantages of municipal ownership and none of its disadvantages. In fact, at this day when the nation is struggling with the problem of "excess profits taxation" of enormous profiteering enterprises, it wo uld seem that some of the fundamental principles involved in Mr. Pott's plan of thirty years also has been rediscovered and revitalized.


The plan was at once met by claims that it was unsound and impracticable; but the ablest lawyers of the city pronounced it perfectly sound. The plan was at once adopted by the Board of Trade with the support of leading citizens in all lines. The company was organized and in two weeks the subscription for $500,000 of stock, which had been fixed as necessary for the start, was more than covered. The company did what was expected of it in securing cheap gas and made a saving to the public of $1,000,000 a year for fifteen years until the supply was exhausted. During that time it made a total i nvestment of over $2,500,00 all of which was paid out of the earnings of the company, together with 8 per cent interest on the stock, and the repayment of all the principal involved will find a f ull presentation of the subject by Mr. Potts in the American Review of Reviews for November, 1899.

After the supply of Natural gas was exhausted the trustees and directors desired to manufacture artificial gas. Rival interests caused the matter to be taken into court and on April 11, 1905, it was held that the company was limited to supplying natural gas and had no power to manufacture gas. The cause of the public seemed to be blocked until it was pointed out that the city had an option of purchase of the plant under the company's franchise, and this co uld be sold to another company, Then the following plan was adopted: The city gave the necessary notice of intention to purchase, and then assigned its option to A. F. Potts, Frank D. Stalnaker and Lorenz Schmidt, to be transferred to a company to be organized by Mr. Potts. This company was to furnish artificial gas at 60 cents per thousand feet, with the same features of voting trustees to prevent manip ulation and limited dividends of 10 per cents and on the further condition that the property was to go to the city when the stockholders had received their money back. This proposal was accepted and after surmounting every legal obstacle that co uld be placed in its way the new company finally gained possession of the mains of the Consumers Trust on October 31, 1907. In the fight for this new public enterprise Mr. Potts visited England at his own expense and gathered the proof to show that gas co uld be manufactured and sold at 60 cents per 1,000 cubic feet. The company proceeded with vigor and began supplying gas on March 31, 1909. Its action forced the other company to come to the same terms, and eventually to lease their plants for ninety-nine years to the new company, which is now supplying gas at 60 cents per 1,000, the lowest rate of any city in the United States. It is obvious that the same principles of organization employed in these gas enterprises can be applied to other public utilities, and that it furnishes a means by which the public can avoid being exploited in these matters.

In the 1916-17 session of the Indiana Legislature, at the request of Governor Goodrich, a bill prepared by Mr. Potts was introduced which crystallizes this plan of organization and makes it applicable to utilities throughout the state as well as companies for the supply of coal, ice and food products. Owing to the pressure of affairs due to the fight on prohibition and woman's suffrage this this measure with many other worthy proposals was sidetracked, but the organization of public men behind it is still intact and the people have the promise that the bill will be presented again at some later session.

As the preceding indicates Mr. Potts has taken an active interest in public affairs, and many of his enterprises were of quasi-public character. He was one of the chief promoters of the Commercial Club of Indianapolis, of which he was for several years a director and for one term president. Among buildings that he was promoted are the Law Building, the Claypool Hotel, the new Board of Trade building, and the American and Union National banks. In 1918, Mr. Potts was nominated by Governor Goodrich as one of the three public directors in the local street car company, an experiment proposed in public interest by the Public Service Commission.

In 1879 Mr. Potts married Miss May Barney, of Indianapolis. Both have taken an active role in literary and social circles. Mr. Potts was one of the founders of the Century Club, and served a term as its president, and also a term as president of the Contemporary Club. They have two daughter. The older, Mrs. Walter Vonnegut, has achieved notable success on the stage. The second is the wife of Mr. Norman W. Cook formerly of the Bureau of Municipal Research of New York and later a lieutenant with the active forces in France.

Indiana and Indianans : a history of aboriginal and territorial Indiana and the century of statehood Chicago: American Historical Society, 1919, pg. 1918-20  





Alfred Fremont Potts, who is perhaps the most notable practical advocate of the promotion of public works by united public effort that Indianapolis has had, is a native of Indiana, born at Richmond, October 29, 1856. He is a son of Dr. Alfred Potts, who died while serving as an army surgeon during the Civil War. He had the educational advantages of the common schools until twelve years of age, after which he made his own way in the world, and was self-educated. Adopting the profession of law, he was admitted to the bar in Marion County, by courtesy, in 1876, while still under age. In 1877 he formed a partnership with John L. Griffiths, since widely know as Reported of the Supreme Court and Cons ul General at London, and this partnership continued for twenty-five years. The energy of the young partners naturally led them into criminal practice, and caused them to undertake some cases of an almost hopeless character; but they managed them with such skill, and so great zeal, that they soon built up a large general practice. Later Mr. Griffiths became absorbed in politics, and Mr. Potts, following a natural bent, became interested in the promotion of corporate enterprises and works of public utility, and the law business was gradually abandoned.

It was indeed fortunate for Indianapolis that this change came. Mr. Potts leaped into prominence in 1887 as the originator and chief promoter of the Consumers Gas Trust Co. Its. object was the protection of the public against the monopolization of the natural gas supply through a service system paid for by public subscription, and controlled by a permanent board of trustees, for the public benefit. It proved a complete success, resisting all efforts at manipulation, and forcing a competition that saved the people of the city approximately #1,000,000 annually for fifteen years. When the supply of natural gas was exhausted, Mr. Potts was the first to suggest the application of the same system to the supply of artificial gas, and the utilization of the Consumers pipe lines for this purpose. He led in the long struggle to secure this res ult, and, with the public-spirited citizens who joined in the effort, succeeded in controlling the situation. The Citizens Gas Company was organized, and secured the old Consumers property, and as a direct res ult of this the price of artificial gas has been reduced to 60 cents per thousand, the lowest rate existing in any city in the United States.

This was but one line of his activities. He was one of the original promoters of the Commercial Club, of which he served for several years as a director, and one term as president. Among other enterprises which he was instrumental in organizing or securing for the city were the Law Building, the Claypool Hotel, the New Board of Trade Building, and the American and Union National Banks. He showed his faith in the theory of civic beautification by taking the square of Fifteenth street between Delaware and Alabama, and changing it from a region of unsightly edifices to a pleasant residence district filled with artistic modern homes. He has also labored for the c ulture of the city, being especially active in the Century and Contemporary Clubs, of both of which he has served as president. On the whole he has achieved the commendable ambition to be a good citizen, and contribute something to the general welfare.

In 1879, Mr. Potts was married to Miss May Barney, of Indianapolis, who is quite as popular as her husband. Their children are Marjorie wife of Walter Vonnegut, and Miss Debora.

Greater Indianapolis : the history, the industries, the institutions, and the people of a city of homes Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1910, Dunn, Jacob Piatt pg. 1121-2





Indianapolis City Directory, 1890. Indianapolis, IN: R.L. Polk and Co., 1890.

Name: John L Griffiths; Alfred F Potts
Location 1: 19 1/2 N Penn
City: Indianapolis
State: IN
Occupation: lawyers
Year: 1889 -1890 Business Name: Griffiths & Potts

Name: Alfred F Potts
City: Indianapolis
State: IN
Year: 1889 - 1890
Business Name: Griffiths & Potts
Location 2: Woodruff Place

It is found that he was treasurer of the Keyless Lock Company as follows:
    Keyless Lock Company, successors to the Morris Lock Company and the L. B. Williams Lock Company of Seward, Neb. In November, 1892, the company was reorganized, and a removal made to this city to the premises now occupied on the Bee Line railroad. It is a stock company and backed up by $100,000 capital. Mr. Arthur Jordan is president; Mr. Geo. L. Barney, general manager; Mr. A. F. Potts , treasurer, and Mr. J. L. Clough, secretary






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