Our History

The Origins of Baltimore and the Need for Fire Insurance

The origins of the city of Baltimore stretch back to 1745 when Baltimore Town (a town on the Patapsco River), and Jones Town (a town east of Jones’ Falls) were amalgamated into one. Though the first fire regulation was introduced in 1745, the absence of a proper fire fighting force and adequate fire fighting equipment meant that the terror of fire loomed large over the colonists — particularly in winter when people constantly used firewood to heat their homes.

Baltimore's first recorded fire occurred on March 16, 1749, at the house of the Greenbury Dorsey family. Unfortunately, despite the valiant attempts by locals using leather fire buckets — which most people had in their homes at the time — to save them, they all perished. Over the next several decades, groups of prominent citizens took action to try and protect Baltimore from the scourge of fire. This included the establishment of the Mechanical Fire Company in 1763, the Friendship Fire Company in 1787, the Deptford Fire Company in 1792 and the Liberty Fire Company in 1794. All were volunteer organizations, with limited resources. And most of the time that meant having just one fire engine each.

Despite the efforts of these and other fire companies, fires continued to consume many homes and businesses and the need for fire insurance became increasingly evident. In 1787, the Maryland Legislature passed an act incorporating the Baltimore Fire Insurance Company (later called the Maryland Fire Insurance Company) to help insure the city and its people against fire. However, this company was short-lived, and therefore paved the way for the formation of Baltimore Equitable Insurance.

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The Founding of Baltimore Equitable Insurance

On January 21, 1794, a small group of citizens assembled to establish a fire insurance company similar to one created in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin. They called it the Baltimore Equitable Society. George Washington was our nation's President. Franklin Street was the city's northern boundary and Bel Air was a tiny village of 157 people in an undeveloped frontier.

A few weeks later, a constitution was drawn to govern the new company, which was called the Baltimore Equitable Society for Insuring Houses From Loss By Fire. Policy Number 1 was issued just months later to Humphrey Pierce on his three-story brick house on Baltimore Street. As 1794 drew to a close, the Society was incorporated — thus making it older than Baltimore city itself, which was incorporated three years later in 1797.

By the end of 1794, 104 policies had been written for a total coverage of $129,016. Expenses for the first year of Society business equaled $300.69, including salaries and rent. Detailed accounts were kept, noting charges of $1.33 for a pewter inkstand and $.50 for 50 quills. Nearly two years after incorporation, on December 4, 1796, the Society sustained its first loss from fire when William Hawkins' two brick houses at Light and Baltimore Streets were destroyed. The blaze consumed a number of other businesses, homes and a church, in what amounted to the city's "Great Fire" to that date. Thus began the Society's tradition of prompt, courteous claim service.

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A Growing Company Grows in Prominence

Many new locals became customers, including well-known names such as Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In 1803, he insured four brick buildings on the north side of King George Street (now Lombard) between Stillhouse Street (now Front) and Jones' Falls. In 1838, he also insured his main home, Homewood (now on the Johns Hopkins University campus). When he cancelled his policy in 1866, the Society, which had built up enough funds to have a surplus by then, refunded the entire original payment. In 1903, when Johns Hopkins University acquired Carroll’s mansion, the university insured it again with Baltimore Equitable — thus cementing the Society’s position as one of the most prominent in the city.

Baltimore Equitable Insurance stood behind the people of Baltimore as several more tumultuous and historic events occurred in the nineteenth century. This included the Battle of Baltimore in 1814, which saw the British army eventually defeated and caused the Society to express its relief in its April 3, 1815 annual meeting: "Peace and the restoration of tranquility...(leave) the board the opportunity and satisfaction to record... that there was no loss sustained."

It also included the Baltimore riots in April 1861, when anti-civil war Democrats and Confederate sympathizers, fought with the Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteers — a band of militiamen who were on their way to Washington to join President Lincoln’s war effort. By the time the riots ended, four soldiers and 12 Baltimoreans lay dead, with many more injured. There was also great deal of destruction throughout the city. Luckily for Baltimore, Baltimore Equitable Insurance was there to help citizens re-build their homes and their lives.

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Baltimore Equitable Introduces Perpetual Insurance

The 1860s also brought the introduction of perpetual policies. By this point in its history, through judicious investments and careful management, the Society had accumulated a surplus sufficient to enable it to write policies for an indefinite period. The first of these policies was issued to William Clagett on his dwelling at 157 Lombard Street near Canal Street. On March 20, 1865, another perpetual policy was issued to cover "Mondawmin," the home of Isabella Brown, widow of George Brown. George was the son of Alexander Brown, founder of Alex, Brown & Sons, the city's oldest banking house. The home, originally a summer home and later their year-round residence, was located where Mondawmin Shopping Center now stands.

The turn of the century was a time of progress and good fortune for the Society until disaster struck the city. On February 7, 1904, a wholesale dry goods house in the heart of Baltimore's business district caught fire, igniting the Great Baltimore Fire. One hundred fifty acres, including the entire original town laid out in 1730, were destroyed along with 2,500 business establishments. Miraculously, no lives were lost, but total damages reached $150 million. The Great Baltimore Fire affected 455 Baltimore Equitable policyholders and although the Society incurred losses of nearly $2 million, all policyholders were promptly paid in full.

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Our Company Stands Tall in Tough Times

With the Great Depression came more hardship. From 1929 to 1939, fortunes were lost, companies were ruined, and millions of workers lost their jobs. Nevertheless, Baltimore Equitable continued to grow. The surplus stayed intact, investments remained secure, and assets increased by 23%. It was during this period of economic struggle that the Society created its Fire Museum as a testament to its historical involvement in insuring and protecting homes in Baltimore. Housed on Eutaw Street, it only recently closed.

The years from 1941 to 1945 saw thousands of Baltimoreans called to military duty in Europe and the Pacific Theater during World War II. Those service men and women who were insured by the Society went to war without the worry of annual premiums, knowing their families would be taken care of in the event of a loss.

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A Proud Past, a Bright Future for Baltimore Equitable Insurance

The urban unrest in 1968 changed the way some insurance companies wrote policies. As a result of the fire damage caused by the civil rights riots of that era, some insurers refused to cover properties within the city lines — and that disproportionately affected poor and black neighborhoods. Yet Baltimore Equitable continued to write policies on homes within the city that met underwriting requirements, and thus ensured that good insurance was available to all who needed it.

The 21st century began just as the 20th century ended, with Baltimore Equitable growing stronger, as our perpetual insurance policies continued to meet the needs of an ever-increasing number of customers. In 2001, Baltimore Equitable expanded operations and began to write policies for customers in Pennsylvania. In 2003, in recognition of its growth, the Society moved its offices from Eutaw Street, where the company had resided since 1889, to new offices on Charles Street. At the same time, the Society donated a large portion of its historical records and memorabilia to the Maryland Historical Society.

Today, we’re proud to say that Baltimore Equitable provides over $1,442,000,000 worth of perpetual insurance to thousands of happy customers in Maryland and Pennsylvania

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