The insurance industry has left an indelible mark on Newark’s landscape. The first company opened its doors in the city in 1804, when the Newark Banking & Insurance Co. began operating out of the home of Judge Smith Burnet on Broad Street. It was also the city’s first bank. At the time, there were fewer than 1,000 homes in Newark, and around 250 businesses. The city’s major employer was the footwear industry. In the late 1830s, the Morris Canal and the Morris & Essex Railroad were transporting people and goods through Newark. Not long after, the first major insurance companies were launched in Brick City. By the early 1900s, Newark had become a center of the insurance business—with the eye-popping architecture to prove it…
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In 1845, attorney Frederick Frelinghuysen founded the Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company in Newark. Mutual Benefit built its business dealing with wealthy individuals and businesses, and in the early 1900s moved into a spectacular home office at 300 Broadway. The company moved to a modern building on Broad Street in the 1950s, and the Archdiocese took over the property. It served as the home of Essex Catholic High before becoming a nursing home in the 1980s. Plans are afoot to convert it into residential units.
In 1846, the American Insurance Company was founded in Newark. The company grew substantially in the first quarter of the 20th century. In the late 1920s, American Insurance began construction on a new home office at 15 Washington Street. Completed in 1930, the neo-classical tower was conceived by the same father-and-son architectural team that designed City Hall and National Newark Building. American Insurance was acquired by the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company (as opposed to Firemen’s Insurance) in 1963. The building later became home to Rutgers Law School. In 2014, Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor announced that the building will house undergraduate and graduate students—bringing 370 young people into the downtown area—as well as serving as her residence.
HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN
In 1855, the Firemen’s Insurance Company opened for business in Newark. In 1910, Firemen’s moved into a new 205-foot skyscraper, which was the tallest building in New Jersey at the time. The structure still stands at the corner of Broad and Market. During the next decade, the company underwent explosive growth, prompting it to relocate to a building adjacent to Military Park. Both structures are on the National Register of Historic Places. Firemen’s celebrated its 100th anniversary by striking hundreds of commemorative medals, many of which survive to this day.
A PIECE OF THE ROCK
In 1875, New Jersey businessman John F. Dryden founded the Widows and Orphans Friendly Society in Newark. He would come to be known as the Father of Industrial Insurance, as his society—which began selling burial insurance—soon morphed into the Prudential Insurance Company of America. As the 1880s trade cards below show, the company specialized in selling small policies door-to-door to the working poor in urban areas. Dryden served as Prudential’s president for 30 years. The company’s Rock of Gibraltar marketing idea was actually inspired by a landmark much closer to home—Fraternity Rock in Secaucus. Prudential’s home office in Newark was a major American architectural triumph. By 1927, the business had moved into a larger building nearby. The modernist Prudential Plaza was completed in 1960. From its earliest days, Prudential was known for its brilliant consumer marketing, including colorful advertising cards, lapel pins and tip trays.