The first examples of insurance related to marine activities. In many ancient societies, merchants and traders pledged their ships or cargo as security for loans. In Babylon creditors charged higher interest rates to merchants and traders in exchange for a promise to forgive the loan if the ship was robbed by pirates or was captured and held for ransom.
In postmedieval England, local groups of working people banded together to create "friendly societies," forerunners of the modern insurance companies. Members of the friendly societies made regular contributions to a common fund, which was used to pay for losses suffered by members. The contributions were determined without reference to a member's age, and without precise identification of what claims would be covered. Without a system to anticipate risks and potential liability, many of the first friendly societies were unable to pay claims, and many eventually disbanded. Insurance gradually came to be seen as a matter best handled by a company in the business of providing insurance.
Insurance companies began to operate for profit in England during the seventeenth century. They devised tables to mathematically predict losses based on various data, including the characteristics of the insured and the probability of loss related to particular risks. These calculations made it possible for insurance companies to anticipate the likelihood of claims, and this made the business of insurance reliable and profitable.
The British Parliament granted a MONOPOLY over the business of insurance in colonial America to two English corporations, London Assurance and Royal Exchange. During the 1760s, colonial legislatures gave a few American insurance companies permission to operate. Since the Revolutionary War, U.S. insurance companies have grown in number and size, with most offering to insure against a wide range of risks.
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