A Very Brief History of Home (Fire) Insurance & Fire Marks
Fire insurance was first offered in 1676 by the Hamburg Fire Office in Germany, but property insurance as we know it today can be traced to the Great Fire of London in 1666; a catastrophic fire that destroyed over 13,000 houses. Many in England attempted to form a sustainable insurance business in the immediate years following but failed. It wasn’t until Nicholas Barbon and 11 associates successfully established the “Insurance Office for Houses” in 1681 that a functioning model came into being.
In the decades following, many similar companies were created in the wake of this success. Each company maintained its own fire department and created fire marks for their “subscribers” (policyholders) to affix to the exterior of their homes. These metal plaques clearly presented the insurance company name or emblem, which enabled their fire departments to quickly identify the homes they were to protect. The purchase of the fire marks funded the company fire brigades.
By contrast, firefighters in America were volunteers pledged to respond to any fire, regardless of who insured the property. Some fire insurers contributed money to these departments and awarded bonuses to the first fire engine arriving at the scene of a fire. In 1822, Mutual Assurance, aka Old Mutual, donated money to a Richmond fire company toward a purchase of a new fire engine. In 1862 we joined with other insurance companies to purchase another fire engine for the capital city. This fire truck was used to help contain the blazes set during the Burning of Richmond in the Civil War.
Fire marks on this side of the Atlantic, therefore, were simply used to identify property insured by a company, perhaps in an effort to advertise the insurance protection they provided. Mutual Assurance Society did not adopt a fire mark at its inception because of the nature of the volunteer fire departments. In 1994, however, the Society created a bicentennial fire mark to reaffirm the mutual commitment of the Society and its member policyholders, each to the other. Many policyholders have elected to display this fire mark on their insured homes.
Next time you are out and about, keep an eye out for our fire mark on homes throughout the Commonwealth.