History

The History of Hartford Steam Boiler

The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company was founded on June 30, 1866.  Our first president considered HSB as “the first company in America devoted primarily to industrial safety.”  “Hartford Standards” quickly became the specifications for boiler design, manufacture and maintenance.

Now, over 147 years later, those same values of loss prevention are at the forefront of much of the work we do.  And, the company’s founding premise of dealing with “matters relative to everyday life” is still very much alive in the company’s culture. 

It’s not surprising, because some very unique influences and values laid the foundation upon which The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company was founded:

  • Steam Power and the Industrial Revolution   
  • Polytechnic Club Tackles Boiler Explosions    
  • Insurance Incentive for Boiler Inspections 

 

Steam Power and the Industrial Revolution

During the mid-to-late nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution sprang up in America.  Boilers, used to drive industrial machinery, locomotives and steamboats, were everywhere. 

Though the potential of steam power seemed infinite, controlling the power was still crudely developed.  As applications for steam power became more complex, the dangers also became more acute.

With thousands of boilers in operation throughout the country, there was also widespread ignorance about the properties of steam and the causes of boiler explosions.  During the 1850’s, explosions were occurring at the rate of almost one every four days.  And, in 1865, the worst boiler disaster in history occurred when the Mississippi River steamer Sultana, took over 1,200 lives. 

Most dismissed these incidences as “acts of god.”  People who ran industrial concerns simply assumed that their boilers would explode and they would lose one or two other workers.  Others, namely members of the Polytechnic Club, which included future founders of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company, had other ideas.

Polytechnic Club Tackles Boiler Explosions

In 1857, several young Hartford businessmen who were associated with the use of steam power, formed The Polytechnic Club.  Their mission was to “discuss matters of science relative to everyday life.”  With steam power – and boiler explosions – becoming such a central part of everyday life, their discussions frequently turned to that subject. 

This group took a practical point of view.  They concluded that boiler explosions occurred because the pressure inside the boiler became greater than the ability of the boiler to withstand it.  They reasoned that better materials and design – with periodic in-service inspections for weaknesses – would prevent explosions.  They so believed in this view that they were willing to put money behind it.

Insurance Incentive for Boiler Inspection

The Polytechnic Club spent much time debating about an idea that combined insurance with a boiler inspection.  They reasoned that inspections would increase boiler safety and the insurance would function as an incentive to inspect and a guarantee of a quality inspection.  Though the insurance offered financial interests, it was secondary to safety and loss prevention – a totally new concept for an insurance offering.

Under that premise, The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company was founded in 1866. 

Today that premise is applied to equipment beyond boilers.  From water supply systems, to heating and cooling, to electrical power, to refrigeration, to telecommunications, we insure and provide engineering services that touch almost every aspect of work and life.