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Using a Pivotal Moment as Documentary Fodder

November 15, 2013 • History Factory

This is a screenshot of a video telling the story of New York City's Great Fire of 1835 for The Hartford, which was a history-making moment for the company: its fast and professional response to a major fire that spread across lower Manhattan in 1835.
One of several short documentaries captured a history-making moment for The Hartford: its fast and professional response to a major fire that spread across lower Manhattan in 1835.

Insurance companies can tell great stories of remarkable service at the time of great losses—amid dramatic floods, powerful hurricanes and great fires. But one insurance company, The Hartford, was the first to be able to legitimately tell a story of exceptional service.

In 1835, a massive fire raged across lower Manhattan. Local merchants’ textile inventories fueled a massive conflagration, spread by gale-force winds, that lit up the night sky. The red glow could be seen as far away as Philadelphia.

We’re accustomed to the insurance company narrative for the story: Long hours, great effort and exceptional customer service help pay claims quickly and get policyholders back on their feet again.

But in 1835, that hadn’t really happened before.

Fire insurance companies were notorious fly-by-night operations, and when big losses hit, they were adept at dodging their obligations and leaving town, premiums in hand, customers left to fend for themselves.

Through Herculean efforts, The Hartford paid its claims on the spot, inspiring great loyalty from their customers, benchmarking an excellent reputation and giving us a story we still tell today.

That story is told in this brief documentary, the first of a series of short historical documentaries, each capturing one critical moment that helped define the company over its remarkable 200-year history.

Individually, they are engaging, product-specific accounts of company history. Collectively, they make a profound statement about The Hartford’s legacy.

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