Canadian Underwriter

Insurance 150 years ago

February 22, 2017   by Compiled by Gloria Cilliers

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As Canada celebrates the 150th anniversary of confederation this year, we take a look at what you could insure in the 1800s…

Death from excessive laughter

Sounds a bit like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, but in one case cinemagoers were actually insured against death from excessive laughter.

Steamboat & railroad accidents

The Franklin Health Assurance Company of Massachusetts was the first U.S. company to offer accident insurance, paying out claims following steamboat or railroad mishaps.

Pet monkey

Famous Lloyds of London underwriter Cuthbert Heath once insured a chimpanzee. The owner asked Heath to insure against the chimp’s death. Years later, when the monkey died, Heath paid up in full and apparently had the chimp stuffed, and kept it in his office. Heath is credited with creating the market’s first burglary policy and first earthquake and hurricane insurance.


Fires posed the greatest insurance risk in the 1800s and early 1900s, resulting in most insurance companies offering fire coverage and separate policies for fire, lightning strikes and earthquakes.

Slaves as property

While it is more commonly known that many a master took out life insurance for slaves, several cases exist in which people also took out property insurance on their slaves. In one such case, a slave owner made a claim for $26,000 for the loss of 38 slaves, after they were freed by the British government when the ship they were on entered Bermuda for repairs. The insurance company refused to pay out on the grounds that the vessel had been deemed unseaworthy.

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the January/February 2017 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.