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Rogue Finance: The Life and Fire Insurance Company and the Panic of 1826

Eric Hilt

Business History Review, 2009, vol. 83, issue 1, 87-112

Abstract: In July of 1826, a financial panic on Wall Street caused several companies to fail abruptly and precipitated runs on two of New York City's fifteen banks. Life and Fire Insurance became the largest of the bankruptcies. In violation of New York's banking statutes, the firm had engaged in lending on a massive scale during the speculative boom that prevailed in 1824–25. Innovative lending techniques had been developed outside the traditional banking sector—in this case, in the insurance industry. These lending practices, based on an instrument known as a post note, were initially sound, but were later extended to riskier borrowers and ultimately proved ruinous. In the credit crisis that began in late 1825, the value of the Life and Fire's assets fell dramatically, and in a desperate effort to raise cash, the directors resorted to fraud.

Date: 2009
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