“It will burn for a mile”: Fire Insurance and the Origins of the High Pressure Fire Service


[H.P.F.S. PUMPING STATION — DELAWARE AVE. AND RACE ST.]

On March 17, 1900 Philadelphia’s center city business elites balked at the news that two New York fire insurance companies, the Home Insurance Company of New York and the Williamsburg City Insurance Company were instructing their underwriters to stop issuing fire insurance policies to Philadelphia businesses situated in an ominously named “conflagration district”: the area from Broad to the Delaware, Arch to Chestnut Sts. It was usual for late nineteenth century fire insurance companies trying to limit unnecessary exposure and most firms acted collaboratively and shared information about known risk while setting rigid rates which were seldom undersold. Thus, the Home Insurance and Williamsburg City Insurance companies were emboldened by the Weed and Kennedy Company’s attempt to discontinue policies in the “conflagration district.” But its Philadelphia agents mutinied, refused to cut off its clients, and severed ties to the New York office.

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