by Jill Tuggle, ABAT Executive Director
I thought it would be cute to look up the origins of Valentine’s Day to bring you the second installment of my highly-riveting messages of 2024.
One of the first hits from my search was from the NPR website which looked both promising and legitimate. So I clicked on it and read…“From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.” Whoa. Ok then. So the origins are far from romantic. I started wondering, “What collision industry sectors might have questionable origins?” Well, I went down a couple rabbit holes, and here’s what I found…
Googling “the dark side of the insurance industry” yielded MANY results – a major rabbit hole of its own mostly consisting of articles from outside our industry which serves as a huge flashing light that we are not alone in our misery working alongside these “partners” as some may call them. One article from the journal Review of Law and Economics states: “We focus on the incentives of insurers to engage in anti-competitive practices and trigger harmful behaviors of their insureds or third parties, in order to increase demand for insurance coverage. Policymakers should be aware and critical of insurers’ perverse incentives that counteract the interests of the insureds and society.” Oof. Like I said, we are not alone in our experience. But not the kind of material I was after for this message.
One of the darker nuggets I found rolled my stomach into a knot. In the spring of 1845, sales were slow for the insurer New York Life, so they looked to a particular agent in the south who had a new idea. According to an article in The New York Times, “There, in Richmond, VA, an enterprising New York Life agent sold more than 30 policies in a single day in February 1846. Soon, advertisements began appearing in newspapers from Wilmington, NC to Louisville as the New York-based company encouraged southerners to buy insurance to protect their most precious commodity: their slaves. Alive, slaves were among a white man’s most prized assets. Dead, they were considered virtually worthless. Life insurance changed that calculus, allowing slave owners to recoup three-quarters of a slave’s value in the event of an untimely death.”
Ew. I know I asked for dark, but I’m not sure you get much darker than that. I’m not sure what’s worse: a man insuring enslaved people as assets or the insurance company exploiting it for a boost in sales. Thank God those times are behind us!
On a lighter note, I was surprised to learn that automobile manufacturers invented jaywalking as a clever response to the new and quite dangerous mode of transportation hitting the streets: cars. Prior to the 1920s, city streets were a place where people gathered. Until cars came along, the streets were a pedestrian’s domain, so it’s no surprise that as automobiles became more commonplace, pedestrian fatalities skyrocketed. Cities were outraged and went on a campaign to do away with these “killing machines.” Local auto dealers panicked and decided to take action to claim the streets as a place for vehicles. The laws and messaging was carried forth by an automobile industry group (think association) whose keen thinking helped them take control of how the messaging was presented to the public, shifting the blame from the cars to citizens who were jaywalking.
According to the article, “During this era, the word ‘jay’ meant something like ‘rube’ or ‘hick’ — a person from the sticks, who didn’t know how to behave in a city. So pro-auto groups promoted use of the word ‘jay walker’ as someone who didn’t know how to walk in a city, threatening public safety.” I was encouraged to see that an “industry group” took matters into their own hands, gained control of some skewed messaging and created change. I know a group who is trying to accomplish just that…
If you made it this far along, thanks for sticking around with me. This message began as research hopeful for a tale rooted deep in love, then dove down to one of the darkest parts of our history and came back around to inspire change. I hope you had a chuckle in there somewhere and that you will stick around to see what else we have up our sleeves for 2024 because I promise there is never a dull moment.
Want more? Check out the February 2024 issue of Texas Automotive!