"Reinsurance has to be international in accordance with its nature." This is the well-known viewpoint of Carl von Thieme, one of the founders of Munich Re, who also served as its general director for many years. Thus, it was not a coincidence that the company rose to become the world market leader rather quickly after its founding in 1880. In the following period, Munich Re stayed on top or was occasionally second to Swiss Re. Nonetheless, the broader public does not know much about the company. Johannes Bähr and Christopher Kopper now present the first history of the reinsurer from its beginnings into the 1980s.
Few companies have risen to become world market leaders as quickly as Munich Re, and only the fewest have succeeded in remaining at the top of the world market for as long. The company’s history reveals how insurers reacted to major catastrophes and technological shifts. Without sharing risks with reinsurers, countless direct insurers would not have survived the economic consequences of major natural catastrophes and would have been forced into bankruptcy by the weight of their payment obligations. Consequently, reinsurers even made coverage for some risks possible in the first place. Yet Munich Re itself also repeatedly contributed to the introduction of new segments of insurance, such as in the case of machine insurance or high-risk life insurance. Thus, the history of this pioneer of globalization is, at the same time, a history of dealing with risks and managing the distribution of risk. Last but not least, it is also the history of a German company that profited from the National Socialist dictatorship and, with great effort, had to find its way back into the world market after the two world wars.