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Surety bonds timeline
By Danielle Rodabaugh, SuretyBonds.com Director of Education
2,750 BC: The earliest known suretyship contract was written on a Mesopotamian tablet. According to the contract, a farmer could not take care of his fields because he was drafted into the king’s army, so another farmer offered to work the fields. The two agreed to split the profit evenly. A local merchant served as the world’s first known surety by guaranteeing that the second farmer would keep his word.
1792-1750 BC: Surteyship was first addressed in a written legal code — the Code of Hammurabi.
670 BC: The oldest surviving surety contract was written.
180 BC: Suretyship is addressed in the Bible. “An honest man is surety for his neighbour; but he that is impudent will forsake him. Forget not the friendship of thy surety, for he hath given his life for thee. A sinner will overthrow the good estate of his surety: And he that is of an unthankful mind will leave him [in danger] that delivered him. Suretiship hath undone many of good estate, and shaken them as a wave of the sea: and he that undertaketh and followeth other men’s business for gain shall fall into suits.” —Ecclesiasticus 29:14-19
150 AD: The Roman Empire developed its first laws about surety.
1837: William L. Haskins proposed the first surety company in America — the New York Guarantee Company. (Practical Guide to Construction Contract Surety Claims)
1840: The first successful corporate surety, Guaranty Society of London, was founded. (Practical Guide to Construction Contract Surety Claims)
1853: New York enacted a law allowing corporate surety firms to be established. (Practical Guide to Construction Contract Surety Claims)
1865: Fidelity Insurance Company became the first corporate surety company in the U.S. (The New York Times)
1884: American Surety Company was incorporated in New York and became the first U.S. company committed to surety underwriting.
1894: Congress passed the Heard Act, which required surety bonds on all federally funded projects.
1898: The U.S. Supreme Court heard its first surety case: American Surety Co. v. Pauly.
1908: Fourteen corporate sureties formed the Surety Association of America. (surety.org)
1917: The victorious defendants of the Venner v. New York Central Railroad Company et al. Supreme Court case collected a $50,000 surety bond in legal fees from the plaintiff. (The New York Times)
1930: The first known surety bond against suicide was written.
1931: The Handbook of the Law of Suretyship and Guaranty was written to clarify fulfillment of sureties.
1935: The federal Miller Act was established to require the use of performance bonds for public work contracts exceeding $100,000. It also mandated payment protection for contracts exceeding $25,000.
1938: American Surety Company and New York Casualty Company developed the "Discovery Bond” to protect businesses against old acts of employee dishonesty yet to be discovered. (The New York Times)
1942: The National Association of Surety Bond Producers (NASBP) was founded to represent the needs and interests of surety agents and brokers. (nasbp.org)
1971: The Federal Trade Commission entered the insurance field for the first time by challenging the 1969 merger between the American General Insurance Company and Fidelity and Deposit Company of Baltimore. The merger made American General the leading surety bond underwriter and the largest fidelity writer in the United States.
1991: Municipal Bond Investors Assurance Corporation began offering new surety bonds that covered deposits local governments put into banks. The First National Bank of Chicago was the first bank to use the bond. (The New York Times)
1993: Westpac Derivative Products, Ltd. became the first business in its market to use a surety bond. The bond was issued for $100 million and allowed the company to earn the highest triple-A ratings. (The New York Times)
2003: Surety insurance companies, including AIG and Travelers, pay an unheard of $900 million settlement to Enron customers following the crash. (The New York Times)
2005: After years of record losses, The Surety & Fidelity Association of America (SFAA) reports that the surety bond industry returns to profitability.
2008: As the recession begins, bonding companies face a decrease in the number of bonds produced, especially those pertaining to construction. The surety industry remains strong throughout the recession despite major downturn in other industries.
2012: Bond and insurance company First Sealord experiences a steep drop in its surplus and is no longer able to fulfill policyholder obligations. As a result, First Sealord is liquidated.
2012: The Small Business Administration (SBA) establishes QuickApp, a streamlined application process to help contractors who don't have an established business record get easier access to bonding in amounts less than $250,000.
2012: The Security in Bonding Act of 2012 is passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and moves on to the Senate and President for approval. If signed into law, HR 3534 will ensure that the assets pledged by individuals acting as sureties on federal contracts are real, sufficient, readily convertible to cash and in the custody and control of the federal government.