Ohio Biographies

Joseph B. Bennett

In the midst of financial turmoil and struggle, Joseph was born in the small village of Narborough on the river Nar on August 11, 1825. He was the sixth child born to Robert and Eleanor , who had already begun preparations to leave England for a more favorable financial climate. It was agreed to go to America's western frontier because the west was the place for new opportunity and limited only by a man's willingness to work. First settling in Cleveland, Ohio in 1831 the family found harsh conditions awaiting them in this western frontier town of 3000 people. Joseph went to school on Superior street and remembers a particularly cruel teacher named Rawson, who used the rod to punctuate the lessons. In 1833 Joseph's family left for Cincinnati, hearing that it was more settled and closer in circumstance to their former village in county Norfolk, England. Being located on the Ohio river and already booming due to its location on the river, Cincinnati felt better for the Bennetts. Young Joseph began working at fourteen in a jewelry store, went to college for a year at fifteen, and entered into the field that would earn him a national reputation at sixteen. In 1841, "J.B." started with the Old Protection Fire and Marine of Hartford, the first eastern company to establish a department or western branch office outside of their home state (in 1825). Although starting as an office boy, J.B. soon was trusted with the books. His assistant was H.M.Magill, later to become the western general agent for Phoenix of Hartford. Other prominent insurance men in the office at this time were W.H.Wyman, general agent of the Aetna at Omaha, Nebraska, and John McGee, later assistant secretary of the Home of New York. The first experiments with classification by risk was worked out by the aforementioned for the next 29 years (until 1854) while with the Protection business. While already using the idea of sub-agents to write policies from Pittsburgh to New Orleans (frontier limit), J.B. can be traced as the originator of the recording agency plan. Although agents could write policies for the parent companies, they were subject to home office approval. What J.B. did was to allow the agents to write their own policies and bind the parent company without first getting their approval. He then extended that to include daily reporting by the agents so that the general agent could more 'track' the risk and quote competitive rates. Another method that came to be as a direct result of J.B.'s innovative management techniques was that of the use of maps to more accurately access the hazards of buildings due to locale and other risk factors. The man in charge of mapping was William H. Martin a German engineer and draftsman who was viewed suspiciously when he went about making maps and notes since the Civil War was in full at the time. In assistance to him, was D.A. Sanborn, who later went on start his own business called the Sanborn Map Company in New York. Another idea that originated in Cincinnati was that of using underwriters and that innovation was fostered by Alexander Stoddard, another employee of J.B.'s Aetna agency. For reasons now only recorded somewhere within the Aetna records, J.B. severed relations with them and began his own business called Andes insurance. Presumably due to the parent being to far removed for Joseph's successful formula of quick-action and 'lesse-faire' style of management, Joseph organized the Andes insurance company on April 5, 1870 and within 30 days had 1 million dollars capital paid in full reserve ! By December 1871, more than 2500 agencies were fully staffed and operational, all writing policies at breakneck speed, according to J.B.'s template. His success was so staggering that the Ohio state limits of 1 million dollars in operating capital forced Joseph to divest the holdings into two other companies- Triumph and Amazon. They also experienced rapid growth and short time periods before achieving capital in excess of one-half million within their first 6 months of operation ! In the fall of 1872, the October winds had just started over Chicago when the Great Fire raged throughout, destroying millions in property. By December, the Andes insurance company had paid out $842,619.48 in claims and showed no faltering in a market enviroment that resulted in over 60 fire insurance companies bankrupting with a total pay-out exceeding $20 million dollars ,all total . And no sooner had he re-structured when the next November brought the great Boston fire which ruined Triumph and stunned Amazon. But Joseph had a tremendous backing of supporters, who were ready to pour money into covering all losses. However, the Ohio Insurance Department would not allow a grace period for adjustment and, coupled with family problems, led to his demise. His 21-acre estate in Clifton, known as Amazon Corner, was handed over to Amazon to cover unsecured stock of J.B.'s. He was later employed by Amazon and Andes in New Orleans and Indianapolis. His neighbor, and vice-president of Amazon, Gazzan Gano, headed the Amazon company for 3 years and was successful in lessening the losses concerning Triumph and Andes insurances. His brother, Howell Gano, retired from hardware just to manage the receivership of their dismantling. These losses by Joseph and other Cincinnati companies made investors leery of the fire insurance business and kept Cincinnati from remaining the insurance capital of the West. Oddly enough, in the 1890's many companies were absorbed and re-insured by larger companies (incl. Amazon) with many choosing CHICAGO as their western base ! It is in Indianapolis where Joseph died, no doubt still working for the company he founded- Amazon. He had married again to Anna Todhunter and is interned with her at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. A large stone memorial headstone marks his resting place and it reads:
"Joseph B. Bennett
Aug 11 1825 - Dec 3 1889
Erected by his fire insurance friends."


Some research has uncovered some entries in various texts published in the late 19th century. They are as follows:


In several volumes of the "Williams City Directory for Cincinnati Ohio"
 we found some of the early Bennett residences to include:
 1853-56 297 Elm Street, Downtown
 1861 65 Clinton Avenue, suburb of Avondale
 1863 67 Clinton Avenue, suburb of Avondale
 1866 Clifton Avenue, suburb of Avondale
 1871 Clifton Avenue, suburb of Avondale
 1873-74 98 Dayton Street, suburb of Avondale
   (Joseph died here while visiting family)

 Some narrative from the same Williams City Directories chronicles the   success Joseph and his brother enjoyed.

1855,56 p.128 lists J.B.Bennett as general agent for the Aetna Insurance Company of Hartford Conn. at #60 W.Fourth Street. The advertisement states,

"All business pertaining to the interests of this Company in this section and the neighboring states, and of the West, Northwest, and Southwest, attended to promptly, so as to accommodate its large patronage with the greatest facility and business skill."
1871 p.94 ad for Andes Insurance, J.B.Bennett, President.
Fire and marine insurance with cash, capital, and surplus of $1,202,847.01 !
For 8 months of business:
"....2000 agencies established !   $700,000 Premiums !     $200,000 Losses Paid !
       and stock already at 20 per cent premium- It is the first fire and marine insurance company ever started with a bona fide $1,000,000 paid-up capital (with 1 exception in New York city during a very easy money market) and now ranks the ninth in order of the million dollar capitals engaged in fire and marine insurance...Business conducted in a liberal spirit. Full lines upon desirable risks accepted. Rates fixed with regard to the laws of average and fair compensation for the hazard assumed."
In the 1872 Directory there was an elaborate lithography, 8 colors for Andes, Amazon,
and Triumph insurance companies.
 J.B.Bennett is listed as President for all three with B.D.West as Sec'y and J.J.Berne as
    As of January 1, 1872 their assests are listed as:
Andes $1,628,215.11
Triumph $ 727,593,11
Amazon $ 714,860.37
Totalling $3,070,668.59
Offices were located at 126 Vine Street ,Cincinnati Ohio

"Having a thorough Agency System in the United States and Canada improved business facilities for conducting a wholesale and retail trade. Lines commercial, forms convenient, rates and terms desirable. The character of these corporations is well indicated by the peerless record of the Andes in the great Chicago fire. A new company paying over $900,000 for losses, and continuing solvent and strong under that test- indeed everthing which is excellant or essential in securing indemnity can be obtained as certainly and as promptly in this trio of companies as in any institution in the world."
Cincinnati - Past and Present
published by M. Joblin and Co. 1872 (portrait)
"...Mr. Bennett is a warm-hearted, genial and courteous gentleman, and is every way worthy the success which is crowning his life-labors. The ability to infuse his own energy into all his  subordinates; the perfect discipline which characterizes everything he undertakes; and an intuitive knowledge of men and motives, are the sterling qualities which enabled him to outstrip competitors and place  himself at the head of one of the most successful insurance companies in the country.
Mr. Bennett is still in the prime of life; and, should he not burn his candle at both ends, will doubtless live many years to enjoy the fruit of his labor."

Greater Cincinnati and Its People
the History of Cincinnati Insurance Business
under the list of fire and marine businesses....
" Amazon Ins. Co. 126 Vine St.; inc., 1871; reinsured in 1891;
     J.B.Bennett,Pres.; B.D.West, Secry. assests $1,127,698."
"Andes Ins. Co.; org 1870, retired in 1872; paid up capital
    $1,000,000; J.B.Bennett,Pres,; J.H. Beattie, Secry."
"Triumph Ins. Co.; org. 1871; reinsured in the Amazon 1872;
" The Andes, J.B. Bennett's million dollar company, was located in the Sinton building on Vine Street. B.D.West, later with the Michigan Inspection Bureau, was secretary. Holger DeRoode, later a prominent  local agent in Chicago, and George Coker, well-known adjuster and also secretary of the Kenton of Covington, were clerks in the Andes office. DeRoode going to Chicago (sic.) to take the agency at that city."
" When J.B. Bennett retired from the western general agency of the Aetna in 1870 he was suceeded by his brother, Fred C. Bennett, and he in turn, in 1897, by Keeler and Gallagher."
"Aetna Insurance Company, of Hartford, established in 1854 by  Joseph B. Bennett, western general manger; suceeded by his brother F.C. Bennett, in 1870; suceeded by Keeler and Gallagher in 1897;  department removed to Chicago in 1907."


Submitted by: Mike Bennett