Aetna Insurance Company Records
The collection consists of periodicals, newspaper clippings, circular letters, directories, indexes, research files, management training manuals, records, reports, and press releases.
Items of particular interest in the collection include mortgage registers (1863-1995), real estate books (1875-1921), technical drawings of the World's Fair Exhibit (1939), and advertising artwork (1859-1945).
- Aetna Inc. (Organization)
Biographical / Historical
Hartford was established as a seaport city and attracted maritime insurance companies to insure ships and cargo for investors. When Thomas Jefferson passed the Embargo Act of 1807, the shipping traffic out of Welles shipyard significantly diminished as new ships were no longer being constructed and cargo was unable to leave the port. As a result, maritime insurance companies began to reestablish themselves as fire insurance organizations.
In 1819, Thomas Kimberly Brace, the "father" of American life insurance, founded Aetna (Fire) Insurance Company in Hartford, Connecticut. Aetna (Fire) Insurance Company continued to branch out and began to offer policies on life insurance. In 1849 New York passed a law banning a single company from providing both fire and life insurance, but it was not until 1853 that the legislation provided stronger regulations for the separation of fire insurance and life insurance under one company. On May 28, 1853, under the presidency of Eliphalet Adams Bulkeley, the Aetna (Fire) Insurance Company became part of the Connecticut General and Aetna Life Insurance Company was founded.
Prior to the Civil War, the Aetna Life Insurance Company issued life insurance policies for an unknown number of enslaved men, women, and children from 1853 to 1860. The role of Aetna in the insuring of enslaved persons was brought to the forefront of the public debate when, in 2000, Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, head of the nonprofit Restitution Study Group of Hoboken, provided evidence of Aetna’s insurance policies for the lives of enslaved persons. Aetna has since acknowledged and apologized for their role as an institution which supported slavery. It is noteworthy that in 2002, Farmer-Paellmann brought a federal suit against Aetna, as well as two other insurance companies, demanding reparations on the basis that the companies benefited from the enrichment of enslaved persons with the argument that the African-American community is still feeling the impact of institutionalized racism today. The federal court dismissed the case.
With the onset of the Civil War, the public demand for life insurance policies grew and Aetna expanded greatly during this period. Aetna continued to branch out into health and accident insurance policies and created the Accident and Liability department to offer employers' liability and workman's collective insurance into the twentieth century. Aetna worked to provide customers with automobile policies in 1907 and in 1913 became an affiliate with the Automobile Insurance Company.
Aetna also experienced a series of financial setbacks during the twentieth century including a series of disastrous fires resulting in significant loss of life, such as the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906 which claimed the lives of over 3,000 people and cost Aetna Insurance Company almost $3 million in damages. Additionally the historic floods in Hartford (1927, 1936, 1938, 1982 and 1984) brought with them their own set of problems for the company. The Great Depression in the 1930s caused further financial difficulties for Aetna in which many employees were fired and salaries were significantly diminished during this period. According to Aetna’s own history, the company survived because they withheld dividend payments to shareholders.
During WWII Aetna purchased bonds to aid in the construction of U. S. Navy aircraft carriers and over a thousand Aetna employees served in the military during the conflict. According to Aetna’s article, “Our History,” Aetna provides insurance coverage for the Manhattan Project which produced the first Atomic Bomb. In the post-war years Aetna celebrated their centennial in 1953 and created an "Equal Opportunity" policy during the Civil Rights movement in 1963. The AIDS epidemic, beginning in 1981, was another event that heralded a new series of difficulties for Aetna as the disease claimed the lives of thousands in the United States.
Aetna has been a subsidiary of CVS Health since 2018.
For more information on the history of Aetna see Richard Hooker’s 1956 monograph, Aetna Life Insurance Company: Its First Hundred Years.
306.67 Linear Feet (149 boxes (1.33 lf each), 1 box (.5 lf), 5 tubes (4 lf), 38 flat boxes (est. at 80 lf), 6 oversized ledgers not in boxes (24 lf))
Language of Materials
- Aetna Inc. (Organization)
- Aetna Company Insurance Records
- April 2023
- Language of description
- Script of description
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