A very early forerunner of vending machines – sophisticated and often somewhat bizarre miniature shops that can be found practically anywhere today – was most certainly the vending machine of insurance policies Assicurazioni Generali launched in 1896.
By introducing “a 10-cent coin” in the vending machine a travel insurance was purchased offering policyholders a cover against “the material consequences of the corporal injuries that may have been caused during the journey following an accident that may strike the railway train or steam boat the policyholders may be on.” Linked to the “journey title”, the policy came into effect “from the date automatically imprinted on the Ticket” and expired “the next day at noon.”
Anonime Grandine and Infortuni
The policy was issued by the Milan-based Società Italiana di Assicurazioni Contro gli Infortuni, a Generali Group company operating in the accidents and third-party liability sectors that offered covers against “accidental adversities”, as such perils were known at that time.
Generali was fully aware of the need to set up a separate management for insurance against these kinds of “adversities,” because protecting its overall assets was crucial for the development of life business, which was the Company’s core insurance activity. Bearing this in mind, Generali established in 1890 Società Anonima di assicurazione contro la grandine, a hail insurance company, and six years later Società Anonima Italiana di Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni, both with headquarters in Milan’s landmark piazza Cordusio.
The industrial take-off and Expositions
The decision on the part of the Company to place these insurance policy vending machines in the country’s principal railway stations should be viewed against the backdrop of that phase of Italian history known as decollo industriale, “industrial take-off,” when the country, in the wake of favourable economic conditions, witnessed a profound transformation, greatly improving living standards across all segments of society.
The vending machine was manufactured by ING.RI CERETTI & TANFANI of Foro Bonaparte, 60 in Milan. Founded in 1894, the engineering company made its debut in Milan on that same year when it installed a passenger cableway that had just one precedent, the one constructed in the USA the previous year.
The 1894 exposition was part of a series of trade fairs, beginning in the 1880s, that would be crowned with the Exposition Universelle of 1900, held in Paris to celebrate the achievements of the previous century and to accelerate development into the next.
Generali had taken part in the industrial and artistic trade fair of 1881 when, to mark the role of insurance as a key strategic lever of economic growth, it presented an album containing 40 charts illustrating when and where hail frequency was greatest during the year, offering also descriptions of the various hail conditions that cause damages to crops. Generali’s hail atlas was not only a key contribution to an economy that continued to be substantially agricultural but also an egregious service to Italy’s nascent meteorological office.
In the following Esposizione Generale Italiana, held in Turin in 1896, Generali took part with Anonima Infortuni, which presented the insurance vending machines as well as a number of essential manuals outlining the features and utility of casualty insurance, workers’ compensation plans and third-party liability coverage.
The experience of the vending machines, which came to an end in the 1920s, was a poignant reflection of an insurance market that was bracing itself to the structural changes underway in a society undergoing full industrialisation. The Company’s business strategy to operate through specialised companies was clearly aimed at preserving the soundness of the life sector against risks that were at that time not easily controllable, relying to this end also on a highly innovative commercial policy. A commercial policy driven by innovation – it shouldn’t be forgotten that the vending machines were conceived by some of the most inventive engineers of the age – and by the explicit will to spread the concept of private insurance among the population.
It was no coincidence that Marco Besso, the chairman who conducted Generali into the contemporary age, imparted to the Company’s sales force the following instruction: “Insurance […] should not be viewed as a source of lucrative interest for the Company […] but as a fount of moral satisfaction, considering it must contribute to the wellbeing and serenity of households,”
It was a piece of advice that in many ways highlighted Assicurazioni Generali’s ability to be, then and now, an authentic game-changer – changing the rules of the game and disrupting the industry, staying focused in something it truly excels: to deal with people.