The End of Christmas? Tales of Insurers Past…

  SimonX   |   12th December 2013 - 4 min read

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As insurers and their clients prepare for the visit of Santa Claus and his reindeer it’s worth remembering that the American insurance industry wasn’t always a fan of Christmas cheer. In fact the New York Board of Underwriters once declared war on Christmas. They sent out a notice to all their clients with fire-insurance which went something like this:

“Your attention is hereby respectfully called to the fact that the introduction about the premises of Christmas green, harvest specimens and other inflammable materials, such as cotton, to represent snow and the like, and the use of moving picture machines, introduces additional hazards not contemplated by the underwriters in issuing policies of indemnity covering the usual fire hazard.”

This could rather more simply put as; “If you want to use Christmas decorations, on your own head be it. You won’t be insured.” Bah humbug!

Putting Scrooge to Shame?

In fairness to the underwriters this isn’t as mean as it first appears. Back in the early days of the 20th century; you wouldn’t decorate a tree with fairy lights and flame retardant tinsel. You’d cover it in candles with real flames and as you can imagine – this had some fairly catastrophic consequences. Christmas blazes became so common place that they were reported with dull familiarity by the newspapers of the time.

Insurers bore the brunt of the festivities rather more harshly than the premiums charged could bear. Office buildings, factories, homes, churches would have their occupants running to their insurer’s door demanding reparations. If a conflagration was particularly severe it could even bankrupt the insurer – leaving everyone out of pocket and insurance workers unemployed for the New Year.

There’s even one report from the year 1900 in which a chap playing Santa caught fire when reaching over a tree to fetch presents for company employee’s children. And we quote; “Harold Haven’s long cotton beard came in contact with a lighted candle and the inflammable stuff blazed up fiercely. The young man’s face was badly scorched and but for his quick action in tearing the burning mass away he would have been fatally injured. The accident created a great sensation, but after the interruption the exercises were continued.”

It wasn’t until the 1940’s and the popular acceptance of electric tree lights that insurers in the US relented and agreed to ensure Christmas again. Ironically, Bing Crosby, of “White Christmas” fame lost his house to a Christmas fire in 1943. Fortunately for him – the insurer paid up to replace it.

If you’d like to help your customers avoid Christmas tree fires they might want to check out these tips. Of course there are plenty of other things that insurers have to deal with at Christmas including some of these strange events.

An Insurers Christmas
simon – website - insurtech

Simon Cowling

Simon spent over 10 years programming from behind a keyboard, before transitioning across to management. A keen adrenaline junkie, whether that involves going up the mountain or over the edge of the cliff. He learned his management skills not just in the I.T world but also running youth camps and conferences, helping teenagers find a footing in life. He also really likes pie.

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