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Remembering Caleb Rice

Allen Wastler

Posted on April 04, 2024

Allen Wastler is a former financial journalist with over 30-years of experience, including time at CNBC, CNN, and Knight-Ridder Newspapers.
Old fashioned monochrome image of Caleb Rice first president of MassMutual
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This article will ...

Recount the story of how a Massachusetts sheriff became MassMutual’s first president.

Relate how he and a cousin were instrumental in starting the company.

Note the early challenges MassMutual faced.

Here's a name you should know ... Caleb Rice.

Who is Caleb Rice? Well, for us at MassMutual he’s a pretty important guy…the first president of the company when it started roughly 170 years ago.

But it’s his previous job that raises eyebrows. Who would think that one of the pioneers of life insurance spent 20 years as the county sheriff?

“In that office his duty had been to arrange not life insurance, but an abrupt exit from this world for any prisoners whom the courts ordered to be hanged,” notes the company history.1 (If that gives you the willies, relax. His county, Hampden, apparently had no executions during his tenure, according Massachusetts history and criminology enthusiasts).

He left that sheriff job in 1851 and became the first president of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. Of course, that position may have had to call on his keeping-the-peace job skills as well.

The mutual plan

The company was actually the brainchild of his younger cousin, George Rice, an agent for a Connecticut insurance company, the company history points out. George saw a lot of business coming out of the Springfield, Massachusetts, area. He believed a local insurance company there could do quite well.

George Rice originally planned to start the company as a mutual enterprise, meaning the company would be owned by policyowners and, consequently, managed with the best interests of customers at its heart. Other insurance companies, like the one he worked for, had such structures.

But Massachusetts law derailed that plan, requiring insurance companies to be chartered via stock ownership first, meaning investors had to put up a pool of money in exchange for shares in the company. That pool of money would act as a reserve for the company’s policies. Once a company was in business long enough to establish a large enough surplus out of its own funds, it could retire the stock, pay back the original investors, and mutualize.

Undeterred, George and Caleb lobbied the leading businessmen of Springfield, Massachusetts. Eventually they had a group of 31 investors, each making individual contributions adding up to a total of $100,000, which was enough to secure the charter. George, however, couldn’t serve on the board, since he still worked for a Connecticut insurance company. So Caleb became president (he was paid $50 for his first year of service).

Early trouble

Trouble came early. As the investor group came together for one of its first board meetings in 1851, one of the lead investors withdrew from the enterprise, arguing his colleagues hadn’t put up solid enough collateral to cover their investment pledges. Nevertheless, the company kept on. (Related: How MassMutual got its start)

George unfortunately never saw the company grow out of its infancy. He died at the age of 33 of tuberculosis in 1856.2 Caleb continued on as president until his death in 1873 (and served as the first mayor of Springfield once it incorporated in 1852).

By then MassMutual had made the shift to a mutual company, started paying dividends, built its first office building, and passed $1 million in assets, a pretty hefty sum in those days. And look at where we are now.

So, all the best, Sheriff Rice. (His birthday is April 4, so think of him when it rolls around).

Discover more from MassMutual …

A long history of Living Mutual

The father of American life insurance

Our Dr. Seuss connection


1 Richard Hooker, “A Century of Service: The Massachusetts Mutual Story,” Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., 1951.

2 Rusty Clark, West Springfield, Massachusetts: Stories Carved in Stone, Dog Pond Press, 2004.

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The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.