Today, almost everyone realizes that life insurance is something
that is important and necessary. It is one more security we can
offer our loved ones in the face of unfortunate events and it is
something that most people would not consider doing without. It
may interest you to know that our ancestors had much the same concerns
that we did and that they also wished their families and loved
ones to be taken care of. What you may not know is that the institution
that we know as heath insurance, with all its intricacies and variations,
is actually an ancient concept going back thousands of years.
While insurance began as a way of reducing the hazards of travel
around about 5000 BC, life insurance is actually a bit younger,
and finds its birthplace in Rome. Burial clubs were formed to cover
the funerary costs of members, and the leftover funds were often
given to the departed's surviving family as help against impoverishment.
The idea behind the fund was the same as it was in the modern day.
As long as there have been communities, there have been funds created
to prevent the survivors of tragedy with some sort of monetary
help. While this might have begun as simply as passing a hat, the
practice has been come refined to the point of being a self-supporting
During the European Middle Ages, guilds were the union shops of
their day, ensuring a certain quality of craftsmanship and training
up younger members. Guilds, especially in the larger cities, had
quite formalized arrangements regarding the death of a member and
the support of his family. This support could range from an annuity
that would be paid or the payment of a single lump sum. At the
very end of the 1600's, Edmond Halley, of Halley's Comet fame,
composed the first mortality table, trying to predict an individual's
life and expected lifespan. This was one of the first attempts
to calculate premiums; up until this point, you paid the insurance
company the same few no matter what age you were.
In the United States, the first insurance company was formed in
Charleston Carolina in 1732. This fledgling company only provided
fire insurance, but it was followed less than fifty years later
by the Presbyterian Synods in the New England states. This organization
created the Corporation for the Relief of Poor and Distressed Widows
and Children of Presbyterian Ministers. It wasn't long before Episcopalian
priests organized a similar fund and dozens of small companies
followed suit. While most of these companies folded, there were
a handful that hung on and, in one incarnation or another, are
still around today.
Life insurance is something that no modern person should be without,
and with a little bit of peering into history, we can see that
our ancestors didn't like to be without it either!