PC360 decided to take a look at the oldest insurers in the United States—a journey that has led to some interesting findings about the birth of insurance in this country.
In the mid-18th century, Benjamin Franklin and fellow firefighters founded what is said to be the first, lasting insurance company under the mutual principle “whereby every man might help another without any disservice to himself,” he said.
Founded in 1752 by Benjamin Franklin, The Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire, a mutual insurance company, first focused on fire prevention in the brick-and-stone city of about 15,000 people and eight volunteer fire companies. Besides running the Pennsylvania Gazette and publishing Poor Richard’s Almanac, Franklin also organized Philadelphia’s Union Fire Company.
In 1999 ACE acquired the global property and casualty business of CIGNA Corp., which included the Insurance Company of North America (INA).
Baltimore Equitable was actually the second insurer in Maryland. The first, the Maryland Fire Insurance Co., was incorporated in 1787 but it was short-lived. Residents met to create a fire company at the start of 1794 (George Washington was president) and soon thereafter, the Baltimore Equitable Society for Insuring Houses from Loss by Fire.
“We’ve been through everything that’s happened,” says Gerald Roach, president of Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia, founded in December 1794. During the Civil War, Richmond, Va., the Confederate capital, burned and caused an evacuation of military forces from the city. At the time, the building’s policies excluded war losses, so Richmond—along with the company—had to re-build by assessing and restoring investment funds.
Chartered in Providence in 1800 by the General Assembly of Rhode Island, Providence Mutual Fire Insurance Co. originally focused on insuring homes and manufacturing within a 10-mile radius of what was a village of about 8,000 people. Providence in 1801 wrote a policy for the Slater Mill, the cotton textile factory that is considered the birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution. The multi-employee mill presented a plethora of new and unforeseen property and casualty risks, some of which are still present in modern manufacturing.
The Hartford Fire Insurance Company was incorporated in 1810 by the Connecticut General Assembly. During the Civil War, it sold a policy to Confederate commander Robert E. Lee for his family home, “Arlington,” in Virginia. President Abraham Lincoln later purchased coverage from The Hartford for his property in Springfield, Ill.
What is known today as the Vermont Mutual Insurance Group—Vermont Mutual Insurance Co., Northern Security Insurance Co., and Granite Mutual Insurance Co.—has been protecting families and businesses in New England and upstate New York since 1828 when the Vermont Mutual Fire Insurance Company was founded by Daniel Baldwin, a young entrepreneur and chief engineeer of the local fire company.
In 1835, Zachariah Allen, a textile mill owner, made improvements to his property to minimize the chance of fire loss. He asked for a reduction in his insurance premiums but was denied. So Allen turned to other mill owners who shared his loss-prevention philosophy and together they formed what today is known as Factory Mutual Insurance Co., which does business as FM Global. The first policy was issued for $2,500.
The General Assembly of Maryland chartered the Mutual Insurance Company of Frederick County in December 1843. The company provided fire protection to the state’s citizens, and received its first claim on August 5 of the next year. Barbara Fritchie, the heroine of John Greenleaf Whittier’s fictionalized poem about an old woman who defended the Union flag before Stonewall Jackson, held a Frederick Mutual policy for her home.
Gilmore & Skole
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED
We knew there was a possibility we might have left someone off our original list and we received some emails and comments to tell us about it. So, here is some additional information regarding the history of insurance in the United States.