Powered by the Industrial Revolution is the third in a series of online galleries from the Insurance Museum’s Fire! Risk and Revelations exhibition. The gallery which is now live, explores how fire insurance companies responded to the huge economic, social and manufacturing changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Visitors will get an insight into some of the challenges they faced in underwriting, fire prevention and firefighting – as well as being able to look at the growth and expansion of fire offices in new communities outside of London. This was a time of increasing professionalism in the industry and insurance became a leader in business innovation. It was advanced in terms of business development, marketing, branding and corporate takeover, with some of the larger offices having networks of agents across the country and even overseas.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Britain became known as the “Workshop of the World”. It is quite often considered that the Industrial Revolution came about due to the ingenuity and innovations of a few inventors and scientists. Whilst this was a core reason for the commercial success of Britain, there were many factors that enabled it to happen. These included established international trade connections, a growing population, available raw materials, a large agricultural population to feed the workers in the factories and cities, and capital to invest. On an individual level it required business acumen, being publicly minded, and knowledgeable of successful marketing. Fire insurance played its part in the Industrial Revolution, helping to evolve practices and in turn, enabling businesses to grow.
The Industrial Revolution did not have a continuous growth, but one of a “jerky” boom and crisis. Industrial leaders and innovators were learning all the time and insurance was also learning. The style of fire insurance that came out of the late 17th century was not fit for purpose in the Industrial Revolution. There were new types of buildings, such as the cotton mills, materials, processes, furnaces, engines, all of which contributed to a new type of risk in fire.
Throughout this period, firefighting was still part of the insurance companies’ responsibility. Powered by the Industrial Revolution will look at how that also evolved, and in particular, how the insurance companies used their fire services, who were seen on the streets, to market their business through branding.
Insurance companies expanded across the country with offices appearing in cities and towns. New companies were established, such as the Bath Fire Office in 1767, the New Bristol Fire Office in 1769, and the Manchester Fire Office in 1771. There were plenty of mergers and acquisitions, and new roles developed: actuarial science, surveyors, agents and administration. By the early 19th century, firefighting, risk management and insurance business models developed from simple to complex.
The Fire! Risk and Revelations exhibition will consist of four online galleries – telling the story of fire insurance from its birth after the Great Fire of London back in 1666, right through to 1929. With each stage of the story being supported by an engaging mix of expert interviews, fun facts, and historical objects to view.
With further support and funding from the industry, the plan is to produce further online galleries, a Mini-Museum with educational facilities and ultimately, a permanent museum to be based in EC3, in the heart of the City of London.
Please click here to view the latest gallery Powered by the Industrial Revolution.