A total of USD 4613 billion was spent globally on insurance in 2012. Modern life can hardly be imagined without this form of risk protection. And yet, comparatively little is known about the history of the industry, although it has played a major part in shaping today’s society and culture. Industrialisation, welfare, innovation, economic development, or modernisation per se would not have been the same without private insurance.
Since the 18th century, building insurance on solidarity, business acumen, and the logic of calculation has proved an almost unbeatable business idea. It was to conquer the world over the next centuries. Trade and emigration became the two most important enablers for creating a global insurance safety network. As every history, that of insurance has been exposed to challenges. Many were inherent to the industry. Some large catastrophes proved too big to deal with for some companies. From the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906 to Hurricane Betsy in 1965 or the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 the industry had to cope with unexpected enormous losses. But challenges also came from the economy and its recurring crises which at times caused bigger losses than the worst insured catastrophes. Also monetary issues caused difficulties with floating exchange rates and fluctuating interest rates. But overall the insurance industry has proved remarkably resilient to all these challenges. Even in the recent crisis insurance was less affected than other industries. A long history of prudent reserving and risk awareness had taught insurers to act cautiously