Heritage Server > Our People > William Jay Dutton


William Jay Dutton was born in Bangor, Maine, on January 23, 1847. His father left for California in search of gold two years later and sent for his family in 1855. William Dutton spent his childhood in San Francisco, where he attended the city’s public schools. He graduated from San Francisco’s City College in 1867 with a degree in the classics and higher mathematics. His first job was at the San Francisco Agency office of the North British & Mercantile, which he soon left to become a marine clerk with Fireman’s Fund. His father, Henry Dutton, was a founding member and long-time vice-president of Fireman’s Fund. The Duttons came from a long line of distinguished ancestors, including a number of Revolutionary War heroes and ChiefJustice Cushing, who swore in George Washington as president of the United States.

When William Dutton first arrived at the Fireman’s Fund as a bookkeeper and solicitor, he began a campaign to replace the stand-up desks in the office with stools. He took his campaign all the way to the president, who made an exception for the exhausted agent. Only after the Chicago Fire, when the offices were greatly expanded, were others allowed the luxury of a stool.

In 1869 William Dutton was elected marine secretary and in June of 1881, he became general secretary of the company. During his tenure as secretary, he was responsible for expanding the Marine Department to the East Coast and even as far as Liverpool and London. He was named second vice-president in 1886 and vice-president in 1890. In 1896, he was also named president of the Home Mutual Insurance Company, which was owned by Fireman’s Fund. In 1900, he succeeded David Staples as president. He remained in that position for 14 years, and upon his retirement from active duty in 1914, he took up the position of chairman. His involvement in the insurance industry may have actually increased after his retirement from active duty, as immediately upon his retirement he took up the position of chairman of the World’s Insurance Congress for the next two years.

In addition to his dedication to the Fireman’s Fund, William Dutton also gave generously of his time, money and experience to countless organizations and charities. He was for many years a moderator of the First Congregationalist Church, president of the Board of Trustees of the Children’s Hospital, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the YMCA, treasurer of the Seaman’s Church Institute, president of the Merchants Exchange and a member of the State Board of Trade, the forerunner of the California State Chamber of Commerce. He was also one of the Committee of Three that named the board of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Additionally, he took on the responsibility of the presidency of the Board of Marine Underwriters at San Francisco for 21 years, the presidency of the Board of Fire Underwriters of the Pacific and the presidency of the California State Development Board. He was also a prominent member of the Pacific Union Club. He served these causes and others until his death in 1932. All told, William Dutton served the Fireman’s Fund for over 60 years.

Taken from "In Memoriam, William J. Dutton" [01-03-00-003-0003, 01-30], "William J. Dutton" [01-03-00-004-0003, 01-30]


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