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David Jackson Staples was born in Medway, Massachusetts, on May 3, 1824. He was a descendant of Charles Sumner, the famed Massachusetts senator. Both of his parents died when Staples was a child, and at the age of 12, he began work in a cotton factory to support himself. The next year, he took off with only a bundle of clothes in the hopes of obtaining an education. He was taken in by the a farm family and worked for them in exchange for room and board and three months off in the winter to attend school. The family was not always kind to him, and he was often punished by being forced to commit chapters of the Old Testament to memory. He soon left the family and became apprenticed to a shoemaker for three years. At the age of 18 he apprenticed himself to a machinist, and in 1849, he set out for California. His formal education at the time totaled less than six months.

Once in California, D.J. Staples found employment freighting to the Southern mines from Stockton on the back of mules and soon set up a ferry business on the Mokelumme River. He was a member of volunteer fire departments in his youth in Massachusetts and held the positions of post master, justice of the peace in San Joaquin County and vice-president and director of the state agricultural society during his early years in California. In 1860, he was made a delegate to the Chicago Presidential Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln for his first term. The next year, he traveled to Washington to witness the inauguration of the new president, and finding the city already under siege, he offered his services to the Union, and was made one of Lincoln’s personal bodyguards.

Upon the sudden death of Samuel Parker in 1866, he was asked to assume the presidency of the growing Fireman’s Fund. With no experience in insurance, he was loath to take on the position, and was instead named vice-president of the company, although he acted as president. The next year he was duly elected president of the company. Upon assuming the presidency, Staples expanded Fireman’s Fund to include marine underwriting as well as local fire insurance.

The next year, Staples took it upon himself to open offices in the major cities of the East Coast, to make Fireman’s Fund a national business. Staples was responsible not only for the Fireman’s Fund expansion and early profitability, but also for successfully guiding the company through the disasters of the Chicago and Boston fires.

David Staples was elected president of the San Francisco Board of Fire Underwriters in 1876, and held that position until the turn of the century. He also served as the President of the California Society of Pioneers for many years. He retired from the presidency of Fireman’s Fund on December 31, 1899. He retained the position of chairman until his death on April 3, 1900.

From David Staples’ biography [01-03-00-002-0003, 01-29]


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