Founding the Company
The Providence Gazette alerts property owners throughout the city of a meeting on March 20, 1800 to form a fire society for their mutual protection. Based on a model developed by Benjamin Franklin, property holders would pay into a common fund to indemnify one another against loss, and therefore allow what Franklin pledged that “every man might help another without any disservice to himself.” In the event of a loss, the society would assess each member a fee based on the number of properties he insured. The fees collected would help the member who suffered the loss, providing him with financial security and protection.
On April 3, 1800, the newly formed "Fire Society” of Providence begins the process of organizing a fire insurance company “for our own mutual security, for the common security and advantage of our neighbors and fellow citizens, and with a view to promote the insurance of houses and other property, from loss by fire, upon the most equal terms, and without any view of private or separate gain or interest. . . It is therefore of the greatest importance to the happiness and security of private families that their property may be insured against fire."
The Rhode Island General Assembly charters the Providence Mutual Fire Insurance Company on October 27, 1800. In the preamble to The Deed of Settlement of the Providence Mutual Fire Insurance Company, one of the founding fathers of the company, David Howell (1747-1824), describes the Company’s main goal. “Amongst the dangers and calamities to which mankind is exposed, there is scarcely any more distressing than that of the sudden destruction of property by the ravages of fire. How often hath it been seen, that in one unfortunate night, the fruits of many years’ industry, nay the labour of ages, have been swept away, leaving those who but a few hours before enjoyed a state of affluence, deprived of their whole subsistence!...It is therefore of greatest importance to the happiness and security of private families that their property may be insured against fire.”
December, 1800, Providence Mutual sets up operations at the Old Exchange Coffee House. With the original Fire Society now obsolete and disbanded, a number of members join Providence Mutual’s fledgling Board of Directors, including a Who’s Who of prominent citizens such as industrialist and early abolitionist Moses Brown (1738-1836).
Old Exchange Coffee House, Providence, RI, first “headquarters” of Providence Mutual Fire Insurance Company. (PPL Rhode Island Image Collection)
In its first year, Providence Mutual writes 131 policies, with a total property value of $221,000. Only homes and businesses within a ten miles radius of Providence are eligible. The eight of these policies is for the Almy, Brown & Slater Cotton Company, popularly known as Slater Mill, and recognized as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.
The First Hundred Years
In 1807, the Company votes to expand its writing beyond the immediate Providence area. On July 12, 1808, Providence Mutual’s tradition of writing business exclusively through Independent Agents begins with the appointment of three “gentlemen” to transact business in East Greenwich and Bristol, Rhode Island.
1809 sees the expansion of Providence Mutual into Massachusetts, with agents established in New Bedford and Nantucket. These two main hubs for the American whaling industry enjoy incredible wealth and industry during their heyday.
Providence Mutual’s first significant claim occurs December 26, 1810, when fire destroys the Sterling Cotton Manufacturing Company (Policy Number 241). True to its principles, Providence Mutual quickly pays the total payment of loss in full, $8,000.
Fire again causes Providence Mutual’s first catastrophic loss when much of downtown Nantucket burns to the ground on May 10, 1846. Starting in a hat shop, the devastation to whale oil refineries, warehouses, wharves, and the stately homes of those involved in the whaling trade is massive and highly costly to a number of insurance carriers, including Providence Mutual. In keeping with what has become its way of doing business, the Company pays over $31,000 in losses.
The Board of Directors of Providence Mutual forms a committee in 1881 to consider the advisability of "insuring in cities having a good water supply outside the limits of the State." As a result, that committee recommends that The Providence continue to expand its business in Massachusetts and Connecticut. In January, 1893, Company officers finally are authorized to "apply for the admission of this company to any state in which they may deem it desirable for its best interests to enter." Over the next twenty years, the company begins to appoint Independent Agents and write business in New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont.
Recognizing Providence Mutual’s success, Financial News published an article on October 3, 1891 entitled “A Record Unsurpassed.” Citing then-Company President (and Mayor of Providence) Henry R. Barker, the article notes:
The Old Providence Mutual Fire Insurance Company, during the past ten years has increased its assets more than 400 percent. During the same time, its surplus has increased more than 500 percent…Its financial standing today is stronger than at any time since its organization ninety years ago.
Downtown Providence, late 1800’s
The Second Hundred Years
Having seen its share of losses in its first century, Providence Mutual faces the first of several major natural disasters with the fabled Hurricane of 1938, whose storm surge in downtown Providence reaches 11 feet, flooding the Company’s home office and destroying much of its early history.
Damage from the 1938 Hurricane, Misquamicut, RI
In the 1940’s, Providence Mutual begins adding windstorm protection to its policies, and also expands its geographic footprint into the New York City area and New Jersey. The Company continues its conservative approach of underwriting selected risks while maintaining and building its capital surplus to safeguard the financial security of its policyholders.
That surplus is tested by three major catastrophes, beginning with the Great Worcester Tornado on June 9, 1953, and followed the next year by Hurricanes Carol and Edna which heavily hit southern New England within two weeks of each other in late summer, 1954. These deadly events cost Providence Mutual over $1,000,000 in paid losses, and are the first major events in which Providence Mutual pays for damage from wind-related causes.
The Mutual Fire Assurance Company of Springfield, MA merges with Providence Mutual in 1965, increasing its premium base and agency plant in western New England. Over the next ten years, Providence Mutual also expands its homeowner and commercial property products, offering the industry standard policy forms that cover multi-peril causes of loss. Providence Mutual is now much more than just a Fire Insurance Company.
With a broader geographic territory, Providence Mutual is more vulnerable to weather-related losses, including the crippling Blizzard of 78, and Hurricanes Hugo, Bob, Andrew, Earl and other ocean storms. Providence Mutual pays more than $1,000,000 from the Blizzard alone, but all claims are handled with the speed, fairness and efficiency that the Company has mandated since its founding.
In July, 1994, Grange Mutual Insurance Company, Rochester, NH becomes part of Providence Mutual. Shortly after, Providence Mutual also begins writing personal auto insurance in New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island.
As the country celebrates the new millennium, Providence Mutual celebrates its bicentennial as one of the most financially sound companies in the insurance industry, with written premium in excess of $30,000,000 and surplus in excess of $129,000,000. More than 360 Independent Agents represent Providence Mutual in eight states. A number of celebrations throughout the year commemorate this historic event. Also in 2000, Sandra Glaser Parrillo becomes President and CEO of Providence Mutual.
The Third Hundred Years
Weather continues to be an issue in the new millennium. Hurricane Irene, tornadoes and unnamed wind and snow storms continue to hit the Northeast. However Superstorm Sandy will be legendary because it was so large in size and intense in destruction. Wreaking havoc on New Jersey, New York City, Connecticut and then inland through the rest of New England, the storm causes over $65,000,000,000 in total damage, and brings the region to a virtual standstill. Sandy is the largest catastrophic event ever for Providence Mutual. The Company responds to thousands of wind, fire, and other storm-related losses, and pays over $12,400,000 in gross claims. Our staff works evenings, weekends and even holidays to respond to the onslaught of claims, and proudly closes 96% of all claims within 60 days of the catastrophe.
Today, Providence Mutual is on a mission to grow to $100,000,000 in written premium, and to diversify its book of business beyond personal and commercial property. The Company focuses on the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and parts of metropolitan New York. The Company continues to enjoy strong financial positioning, a focus on intuitive technology and customer service, and delivery of superior and timely claims service, just as one of the Company’s founding fathers, David Howell, advocated 213 years ago.
Providence Mutual Insurance main office, Warwick, RI