The first time I went to look at the house I circled the block twice. I thought I had the wrong property. A plaque with two clasped hands and 1794 written in gold lettering located on the exterior of the house was throwing me off. Initially, I thought the plaque was the address; however, several houses in the neighborhood had the same plaque as well. After a little research, I discovered that the plaque was the Baltimore Equitable Society Insurance fire mark.
In Europe, insurance companies used to own the fire companies. These companies would only come and extinguish a fire if the home had the proper fire mark disclosing that they were insured. In the United States, Benjamin Franklin established the public and volunteer fire departments in 1752, so fire companies responded to all fires. Fire marks were still placed on homes to discourage arson, as this mark meant that the property owner had fire insurance.
The Baltimore Equitable Society was founded in 1794 and is one of the oldest corporations in Baltimore City. It is also the third oldest fire insurance company in the United States. The company is known for its reputable reputation for payment, including during the Great Baltimore Fire in 1904. A total of 455 policy holders were affected by the fire, incurring a loss close to two million dollars. All policy holders were paid in full.
The fire mark on my house was produced in 1927 and similar copies can be seen on display at the National Museum of American History. The Baltimore Equitable Society, now known as BEI, is still in business today and continues to give out fire marks to it’s customers. I attempted to find out the policy history for my house, but all policies are confidential.
The Baltimore Sun, An up-to-date, old-time insurer Equitable Society still makes its mark
Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Baltimore Equitable Fire Mark
Wikipedia, Baltimore Equitable Society
Baltimore Heritage.com, Baltimore Equitable Society
Baltimore Equitable Insurance.com