Connecticut’s Aetna — A Piece of American History

Hartford-based insurance giant shapes the past, present


Not every company can boast a history as long and as storied as Aetna’s (NYSE:AET).

Tracing its origins back to 1850 — when an earlier company, also bearing the Aetna name and specializing in fire insurance, introduced an annuity fund to sell life insurance — the company as we know it today split off to become an independent enterprise, dubbed Aetna Life Insurance Company, in 1853.

The move was the first in a series of bold choices. Before long, the young company was venturing into new opportunities. At the dawn of the Civil War, when most life insurance providers were cutting back their operations, Aetna introduced participating life insurance policies. The gamble paid off; by the end of the war, Aetna had increased its volume of business by more than 600%.

Over the years, Aetna expanded into accident insurance, health insurance, liability insurance, auto insurance and numerous other fields.

Throughout it all, one thing has remained constant — Aetna has made its home in Hartford, Conn., from its start, helping to shape its city and state along the way. Aetna’s first president, Eliphalet A. Bulkeley, was the Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives and a state senator. His son, Morgan, who also presided over Aetna, served as the Mayor of Hartford and the Governor of Connecticut before representing his state in the U.S. Senate.

The Forrest Gump of insurance companies, Aetna’s history reads like the history of America. While the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 devastated other insurance companies, Aetna paid out every claim in full. During World War I, Aetna instituted a department to buy and sell Liberty Bonds. The company survived the Great Depression without laying off a single employee. In World War II, Aetna helped finance seven aircraft carriers and provided insurance for the Manhattan Project. Afterward, Aetna provided group insurance for the UN and bonded the construction of their headquarters.  During the space race, Aetna insured the lives of America’s first seven astronauts. In the ‘80s, it paid the first-ever claims to Vietnam veterans suffering from exposure to Agent Orange.

Aetna’s record of service is almost too great to grasp. For more than a century and a half, Aetna has been changing the country — and, for that matter, the world — one risk at a time.

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Ryan Hauck isn’t much of anything. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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