Insurance began as a way of reducing the risk of traders, as early as 5000 BC in China and 4500 BC in Babylon. Life insurance dates only to ancient Rome; "burial clubs" covered the cost of members' funeral expenses and helped survivors monetarily. Modern life insurance started in late 17th century England, originally as insurance for traders: merchants, ship owners and underwriters met to discuss deals at Lloyd's Coffee House, predecessor to the famous Lloyd's of London.
The first insurance company in the United States was formed in Charleston, South Carolina in 1732, but it provided only fire insurance. The sale of life insurance in the U.S. began in the late 1760s. The Presbyterian Synods in Philadelphia and New York created the Corporation for Relief of Poor and Distressed Widows and Children of Presbyterian Ministers in 1759; Episcopalian priests organized a similar fund in 1769. Between 1787 and 1837 more than two dozen life insurance companies were started, but fewer than half a dozen survived.
Prior to the American Civil War, many insurance companies in the United States insured the lives of slaves for their owners. In response to bills passed in California in 2001 and in Illinois in 2003, the companies have been required to search their records for such policies. New York Life for example reported that Nautilus sold 485 slaveholder life insurance policies during a two-year period in the 1840s; they added that their trustees voted to end the sale of such policies 15 years before the Emancipation Proclamation.
According to a study by Swiss Re, EU was the largest market for life insurance premiums written in 2005 followed by the USA and Japan.