Early Mennonite records show that a form of mutual fire insurance was practiced at least as early as the beginning of the 17th century by the Mennonites of Germany. In 1623 Mennonites living in the province of West Prussia organized the Tiegenhöfer Privat-Brandordnung, which was in operation until the end of the Mennonite settlements in Prussia. (This article deals only with the fire insurance practices among the descendants of this group.)
When in the late 18th century Mennonites from Germany migrated to Russia they took their system of mutual insurance along with them and, if anything, expanded and systematized its use. In Russia the Mennonites were all organized by districts. Insurance of buildings was compulsory except for a few types of buildings such as churches which were optional. Negligence in observing regulations could result in penalties. Each village had its representative in the district organization and each district or volost had its officers and appraisers. All disputes were resolved by an established system of arbitration. Buildings had to be erected so as to meet the approval of the fire insurance regulations. So effectively did the Mennonite insurance plan work that it was introduced into the other German-speaking colonies in the area in 1868 by the Ministry of State Domain.
In the late 19th century when the large Mennonite migrations from Russia to North America occurred, the mutual insurance organizations were again taken with them and put into operation in the new lands. There are more than 20 such mutual aid insurance societies in existence in the United States and Canada in the 1950s, about half of them having been started by the Swiss Mennonites and their descendants who settled in the eastern part of the United States.
The Old Colony Mennonites in Mexico and in Paraguay are organized to provide systematic protection for losses from fire exactly as their forefathers in Europe were a century or more ago. The name is the same. It is called the Brandschadenversicherung. In each village there is a Brandschulze or local village representative. The individual elected to serve as general director of the entire colony fire insurance organization is called the Brandvorsteher. Losses from fire are comparatively low but such losses as occur are shared by all the colonists according to their property valuation.
The colonists who settled in Paraguay as refugees from Europe after World War I and II likewise organized their colonies to secure mutual protection from fire losses. In the United States and Canada many Mennonites were now insuring in non-Mennonite companies. Several insurance societies that were once exclusively Mennonite have enlarged and taken in anyone who wished to be insured, thus operating as a straight mutual insurance company without regard for religious affiliation. The former Mennonite Mutual Fire Insurance Co., Newton, Kansas, now Midland Fire Insurance Company, is an example of this development. In West Prussia and in Russia all traces of such Mennonite organizations are completely extinct. In North and South America, however, the mutual fire insurance plan is still strong.
See also Mutual Aid
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 405. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
©1996-2013 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.
MLA style: Fretz, J. Winfield. "Brandschadenversicherung." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B7382.html.
APA style: Fretz, J. Winfield. (1953). Brandschadenversicherung. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B7382.html.