An Inquiry about Insurances

By Mark Twain
From The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches (New York: C. H. Webb, 1867).


Coming down from Sacramento the other night, I found on a center-table in the saloon of the steamboat, a pamphlet advertisement of an Accident Insurance Company. It interested me a good deal, with its General Accidents, and its Hazardous Tables, and Extra-Hazardous furniture of the same description, and I would like to know something more about it. It is a new thing to me. I want to invest if I come to like it. I want to ask merely a few questions of the man who carries on this Accident shop. For I am an orphan.

He publishes this list as accidents he is willing to insure people against.

General accidents include the Traveling Risk, and also all forms of Dislocations, Broken Bones, Ruptures, Tendons, Sprains, Concussions, Crushings, Bruising, Cuts, Stabs, Gunshot Wounds, Poisoned Wounds, Burns and Scalds, Freezing, Bites, Unprovoked Assaults by Burglars, Robbers, or Murderers, the action of Lightning or Sunstroke, the effects of Explosions, Chemicals, Floods, and Earthquakes, Suffocation by Drowning or Choking -- where such accidental injury totally disables the person insured from following his usual avocation, or causes death within three months from the time of the happening of the injury.

I want to address this party as follows:

Now, Smith -- I suppose likely your name is Smith -- you don't know me and I don't know you, but I am willing to be friendly. I am acquainted with a good many of your family -- I know John as well as I know any man -- and I think we can come to an understanding about your little game without any hard feelings. For instance:

Do you allow the same money on a dog-bite that you do on an earthquake? Do you take special risks for specific accidents? -- that is to say, could I, by getting a policy for dog-bites alone, get it cheaper than if I took a chance in your whole lottery? And if so, and supposing I got insured against earthquakes, would you charge any more for San Francisco earthquakes than for those that prevail in places that are better anchored down? And if I had a policy on earthquakes alone, I couldn't collect on a dog-bite, may be, could I?

If a man had such a policy, and an earthquake shook him up and loosened his joints a good deal, but not enough to incapacitate him from engaging in pursuits which did not require him to be tight, wouldn't you pay him some of his pension? I notice you do not mention Biles. How about Biles? Why do you discriminate between Provoked and Unprovoked Assaults by Burglars? If a burglar entered my house at dead of night, and I, in the excitement natural to such an occasion, should forget myself and say something that provoked him, and he should cripple me, wouldn't I get any thing? But if I provoked him by pure accident, I would have you there, I judge; because you would have to pay for the Accident part of it any how, seeing that insuring against accidents is just your strong suit, you know. Now, that item about protecting a man against freezing is good. It will procure you all the custom you want in this country. Because, you understand, the people hereabouts have suffered a good deal from just such climatic drawbacks as that. Why, three years ago, if a man -- being a small fish in the matter of money -- went over to Washoe, and bought into a good silver mine, they would let that man go on and pay assessments till his purse got down to about thirty-two Fahrenheit, and then the big fish would close in on him and freeze him out. And from that day forth you might consider that man in the light of a bankrupt community; and you would have him down to a spot, too. But if you are ready to insure against that sort of thing, and can stand it, you can give Washoe a fair start. You might send me an agency. Business? Why, Smith, I could get you more business than you could attend to. With such an understanding as that, the boys would all take a chance.

You don't appear to make any particular mention of taking risks on blighted affections. But if you should conclude to do a little business in that line, you might put me down for six or seven chances. I wouldn't mind expense -- you might enter it on the extra hazardous. I suppose I would get ahead of you in the long run any how, likely. I have been blighted a good deal in my time.

But now as to those "Effects of Lightning." Suppose the lightning were to strike out at one of your men and miss him, and fetch another party -- could that other party come on you for damages? Or could the relatives of the party thus suddenly snaked out of the bright world in the bloom of his youth come on you in case he was crowded for time? as of course he would be, you know, under such circumstances.

You say you have "issued over sixty thousand policies, forty-five of which have proved fatal and been paid for." Now, do you know, Smith, that that looks just a little shaky to me, in a measure? You appear to have it pretty much all your own way, you see. It is all very well for the lucky forty-five that have died "and been paid for," but how about the other fifty-nine thousand nine hundred and fifty-five? You have got their money, haven't you? but somehow the lightning don't seem to strike them and they don't get any chance at you. Won't their families get fatigued waiting for their dividends? Don't your customers drop off rather slow, so to speak?

You will ruin yourself publishing such damaging statements as that, Smith. I tell you as a friend. If you had said that the fifty-nine thousand nine hundred and fifty-five died, and that forty-five lived, you would have issued about four tons of policies the next week. But people are not going to get insured, when you take so much pains to prove that there is such precious little use in it. Good-by Smith!








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