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Thursday, February 26, 2009

The History of Life Insurance.

By Tom Martens

Insurance provides us with protection against risk, and owning insurance policies is a normal part of modern life. While insurance has been around for hundreds of years in one form or another, most of the familiar kinds of insurance we have today are actually a newcomer on the historical scene.

As early as 5000 BC, the ancient Chinese had a form of insurance to protect their traders. There are historical stories and even modern societies indicating a kind of humane "insurance," in which neighbors or members of the same organization or church took care of each other during emergencies. While community has no monetary value, we can consider community at its best to be a form of insurance because of the gesture of caring. What we consider life insurance, however, did not come along until long after the first caring communities.

In ancient Rome there were "burial clubs." Members of these clubs were protected against funeral costs and their survivors were given financial aid. The origins of the burial clubs were religious. The Romans believed that if someone was not given a proper burial, he or she could not find peace in the afterlife. For all but the very rich, burial clubs were essential to finding peace in death, because every proper funeral required a large and often lavish celebration.

Life insurance of the kind we have today dates from the late seventeenth century in England. It was originally intended, like the ancient Chinese traders' insurance, to protect merchants and traders. The death of one party to a business transaction could cause considerable hurt to the other. This historical form of life insurance protected those who brought goods into the city and those who sold them. Life insurance protected commerce.

The earliest American life insurance company appeared in 1732 in Charleston, in the colony of South Carolina, although at its founding, the company only offered fire insurance. Life insurance was not sold in the Thirteen Colonies until the 1760's, but it quickly became a big business. In the southern states of the US, life insurance policies were issued for slaves. One company in New York allegedly issued 485 policies on slaves in just two years during the 1840's. However, as the northern states became more adamant in their opposition to slavery, insurance companies were ordered to stop insuring slaves. If the records are to be believed, the sale of life insurance on the lives of slaves stopped several years before the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Ordered to search their records to purge any policies that indirectly supported slavery, life insurance companies found no such policies even before the Civil War.

Whichever type of life insurance policy you hold today, one thing for certain is that the history of life insurance has been rich and complex. There is at least one constant, however, that has never changed. Life insurance protects our heirs from whatever life sends their way. Ask any questions to a qualified life insurance agent who can help you find the right life insurance protection for your loved ones. A qualified insurance agent will consider the specifics of your situation and help you find exactly the policy you need.

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