The Hartford Celebrates a Rich History on Its 200th Anniversary
By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
One could easily argue that traditionalist insurance carrier The Hartford might benefit from a little change now and then, or that the old-line carrier might welcome the infusion of new blood.
At the same time, one could never dispute that, broadly speaking, the 200-year-old firm wasn't around to pay claims, or that it simply turned tail on its responsibilities.
As the first insurance company incorporated in the state of Connecticut, the carrier, originally known as Hartford Fire Insurance Co., has had its fair share of responsibility and tradition to uphold.
"We have assisted customers through almost every major historic event in the United States since 1810," said CEO Liam E. McGee, in a statement announcing the company's 200th anniversary earlier this month.
Who is anyone to argue? Shortly after the Connecticut General Assembly passed the law incorporating the company, Hartford Fire Ins. Co. went to work spreading its risk by reinsuring the New Haven Fire Ins. Co.
Even during the Civil War, the Hartford was shrewd enough to collect premium from both sides: the Union leaders in the North and the Confederate leaders in the South.
In 1859, the Hartford underwrote an insurance policy purchased by the soon-to-be Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to cover his family mansion on the banks of the Potomac.
Two years later, President Abraham Lincoln signed a fire insurance policy to cover his two-story home and carriage shed in Springfield, Ill. The annual premium came to $24.
Later, the company issued a personal liability policy for President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 190-acre working farm. It also provided contract bonds for construction of the Hoover Dam in 1931, the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937 and the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, the same year the company expanded into the life insurance business.
In 1945, the Hartford provided liability insurance for the first meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945, according to company-issued statements.
On the claims side, The Hartford paid out almost $2 million ($2.8 billion in today's dollars) in claims after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 leveled nearly 17,500 buildings and claimed 250 lives.
More than 35 years later, the company paid out $11.6 million in claims, the most ever to that point, as a result of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which damaged or destroyed 28,000 buildings.
By the time the Civil War broke out in 1961, the Hartford had been in business for more than 50 years, and by then had already developed its distribution network.
It had also become a source of rich insurance-related anecdotes. When The Hartford stopped writing new policies in battle-stricken regions, for example, agent A.H. Hayden buried clients' papers in a wooden keg in a field, and promised to pay claims when the war was over.
In 1865, after the fighting stopped, Hayden dug up the policies, sent them to the Hartford, and the claims were paid in full, according to a Hartford spokeswoman.
Much later, at the beginning of this century, the Hartford paid more than 950 commercial, life, auto and property claims, in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"As the first insurance company incorporated in Connecticut, the Hartford has grown into one of the pre-eminent protection and wealth management companies in the United States," said Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell, in a statement.
CROSSING AT THE FORD
Company lore traces the emergence of the Hartford's iconic stag to the early days of the company, when the city of Hartford adopted as its seal the image of a deer, known as a hart, fording a stream. The Hartford may have been inspired by its namesake's choice.
The earliest known example of the company's use of the stag dates back to 1861, when it was used on Abraham Lincoln's insurance policy, said a Hartford spokeswoman.
The stag's pose and characteristics changed frequently throughout the 19th century in the popular promotional calendars distributed to agents during the company's early years
The 1879 calendar shows a stag with broad antlers, walking across a stream. The following year, the stag had grown longer ears and stands further out of the water.
The changes to the image continued until 1886, when the majestic stag from Sir Edwin Landseer's 1851 oil-on-canvas masterpiece Monarch of the Glen attained widespread popularity.
Policies bearing a mark reminiscent of Landseer's hallmark pose have, however, been found as early as 1861. While this representation remained static, the background continued to shift for many years.
Despite the subtle changes, the image retains the essence of the animal's regal stance and distant gaze, which evoke a proud and noble company in whom customers can confidently place their abiding trust, according to Hartford executives.
The 200th anniversary version of the logo features the stag turning his gaze forward, toward the future--much as it did in the 1861 version.
May 18, 2010
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