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From the Fireman’s Fund Record, June 1919.

The early history of the Western Department is told here by one who had a leading part in laying the foundations of its success. In a letter accompanying his article, Mr. Chard writes: "The events narrated are so far in the past they seem as if they had happened in some other world. The assets of the Fireman ‘s Fund in those days were hardly five per cent of what they are now. Glorious record!"

By Thomas S. Chard

It was nearly fifty years ago, in 1869, that I became connected with the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company as the special agent for the western states. The managers at that time were Skeels, Bowers and Boughton, with the department office in New York City. My task was not easy. The company was almost unknown, relatively small, and came from the remote West.

Eastern and foreign companies many times larger than the Fireman ‘s Fund fully occupied the field, and had no intention to surrender any part of their business to newcomers. We were offered in many cases what they had declined. But I held that we must have the best in order to offset with a low loss ratio, the higher expense ratio resulting from our smaller income.

Through the years of 1870 and 1871 I was on the road continually, planting agencies and becoming familiar with the fire hazard of the Central West. I was in Louisville, Kentucky, when the great Chicago fire occurred in October, 1871, and left at once for that city. As we approached Chicago the most impossible stories came of an enormous fire involving well-known landmarks miles apart in the city. As the train arrived, the reports were verified and I soon looked upon the greatest fire ruin the world had ever seen. The Fireman‘s Fund, though involved in an amount of loss considerably exceeding its capital, paid every dollar of its obligation and thereby won great distinction.

Owing to causes already stated, the New York management of the company had not been profitable, but the Chicago fire had ruined so many companies that the officers of the Fireman’s Fund thought it would pay to establish a central department in Chicago, and so work the field at closer range. The secretary of the company, George D. Dornin, came east, explained to me the plans, and offered me the management. I hesitated to accept, as I owed my connection with the company to the managers it was proposed to displace. However, being informed that the division of the territory was inevitable, I accepted thankfully the position and became general manager for the field between Western New York and the Rocky Mountains. My commission was dated July 1st, 1872. A department office was opened at 177 Madison Street, Chicago, and we were soon busy with a full force of clerks and special agents.

In 1875 the Eastern and Central Departments of the company were consolidated and the entire field remained under my management for ten years. In the year 1885 the general conditions of fire insurance were so improved that it was deemed best to reopen an Eastern Department, and so the Central Department was limited to its former field. In the year 1900, after thirty years of active service, I tendered my resignation as manager, and retired from business life. It was a pleasure to me to know that the duties of the position would be assumed by very competent successors.

The career of the Fireman’s Fund has indeed been very remarkable. The great conflagrations of Chicago, Boston, Virginia City and the destruction of its home city, San Francisco, were met with the courage and the scrupulous fulfillment of every obligation which have ever distinguished the company. I would like to pay a tribute here to the noble men who have been the executive officers of the Fireman’s Fund, but their record is their best eulogy.

[Fireman’s Fund Archives: 4-1-3-4-30, 0406]


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