The History of Insurance

The History of Insurance

The first insurance policies written in America covered ships and cargoes against the perils of the sea, with its first known American insurance underwriter as John Copson who opened his Philadelphia office in 1721 to write “Publick Insurance on Vessels and Merchanizes.” Eventually, coffeehouses in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York became meeting grounds for brokers, underwriters, and shipowners.[1]

In 1752, Benjamin Franklin and other entrepreneurs founded the Philadelphia Contributorship to insure homes against loss by fire; in 1759 the country’s first life insurance company was formed to assist the widows and children of Presbyterian clergyman.

By 1812, there were more than 30 insurance companies in the United States, including the nation’s first stock insurance company, the Insurance Company of North America.[2However, state tax laws whose focus was on protecting local firms, discouraged the growth of large, national insurance companies in America, resulting in the existence of small, financially weak companies. In 1835 a great fire in the downtown area of New York City bankrupted all but two of the city’s firms, and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 forced the end of 68 Illinois firms.[3]

By the middle of the 19th century, America was finally set for a stable and reliable insurance industry, with New York becoming the first state to enact regulatory laws, followed, six years later, by Massachusetts forming the nation’s first insurance commission. In 1864, the establishment of Travelers Insurance Company introduced America to its first accident (personal injury) insurance.[4]

During the 1890’s, the Southern Aid and Insurance Company of Virginia became the nation’s first black-owned and operated insurance company. The company’s goal was to provide adequate and affordable insurance protection to African-Americans and promote jobs for black youth.[5] Today, America’s oldest African-American insurance company is North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company established in 1898; another insurance company, Atlanta Life, is the leading African-American reinsurer of group life benefits.[6] Former American slaves were founders of both companies.

For their embrace of the rich, historic diversity within America’s insurance industry, we take this opportunity to thank all of NAAIA’s national corporate sponsors. Please visit the national website,, for a current listing.


[1] Reader’s Digest Association, Family Encyclopedia of American History, Insurance Industry (1975)


[3] Reader’s Digest Association, Family Encyclopedia of American History, Insurance Industry (1975)

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