Modern Insurance

In their February 1913 issues, both The Crisis and Scribner’s discuss insurance, which was changing at the beginning of the 20th century. An ad in Scibner’s uses an ethos tactic to try to sell fire insurance to readers. “For over 100 years” Hartford Fire Insurance Company has charged “substantially the same” rates as other insurance companies, but Hartford is all about the quality (28). The rhetoric of the ad relies upon a picture of a row of apples, all different shapes, colors, and sizes, and Hartford claims that the apples represent the variety of quality of insurance companies. I think the quality argument rings a little bit dissonant to my ears because I think about ads that use quantity as their selling point: “better deals!” that is,  lower rates, same quality instead of same rate, higher quality. In advertising and marketing circles, this difference in tactics probably has a long history. Nonetheless I found it compelling as an example useful to compare how companies are advertising. The Hartford Company still exists by the way—it had over 70 billion dollars in assets in 2019. Their stock price is up 1.68%.

To touch on the what of what companies are advertising in these magazines, insurance has modern and antiquated forms, according to The Crisis. In an article discussing why segregation is separate but not equal, Du Bois (or an associate editor) writes “our insurance societies, with few exceptions, do not know what modern insurance means” (185). In Scribner's The Hartford Fire Insurance Company presumably deals only in insuring property for fire damage, the likelihood of which diminished as access to electric lighting and heating expanded. So then modern insurance must be, like modernism, a response to the circumstances/developments of modernity. "Modern insurance" suggests that insurers changed their strategies as a response to new technologies. I don’t have anything more substantive to say, I just find it fitting that “modern insurance”, affected by technological developments like electricity, is being discussed in an editorial of The Crisis while in the same month, Scribner’s has an issue that focuses on cars and a growing car culture, and it advertises fire insurance. The first car insurance policy was issued in 1897, but I wonder when it became profitable to advertise auto insurance in widely-circulated media.

These somewhat scattered thoughts culminate in my main point: I’m interested in the development of this “modern” insurance and its explicit connections to technological developments like automobiles and electricity.


This is a good application of concepts from Scholes and Wulfman to an issue of each of these magazines, as well as how the thechniques differed between then and now. It's an interesting entrance into understanding the values and how they are embodied in the periodical and its literary content. Just to go a step further, What does the nature of the insurance being advertised say about how these magazines build audience?