Who Knew?

Famous people related to actuarial science

Photograph: Courtesy of Christopher Wright, Washington, D.C.

Elizur Wright helped make Massachusetts a leader in life insurance regulation. His daughter, Lucy Jane Wright, is unofficially noted as the first woman actuary.


In 1889, the total actuarial population in North America was between 80 and 100 people. The individuals featured here were connected to the actuarial profession during this time frame, but some were rarely known for their actuarial work.

Elizur Wright, a Yale graduate, made his name as a reformer—fighting first to abolish slavery, and then to make Massachusetts a leader in life insurance regulation. His first life insurance connections were with Massachusetts Hospital Life and New England Mutual. He also created actuarial tables to help insurance companies set premiums.

One member of Elizur Wright’s large family, Lucy Jane Wright—unofficially noted as the first woman actuary—learned the actuarial craft during the eight years she worked as her father’s assistant. In 1866, Union Mutual Life, then a Boston company, appointed Ms. Wright as its actuary. She mastered college-level mathematics by age 15. She worked at Union Mutual for seven months and passed away shortly after from tuberculosis.

One of the greatest bridge players, Oswald Jacoby, was also an expert at backgammon and a variety of card games. He worked as an actuary and was considered by many as a “human computer” for his amazing recall of numbers.

Sir Edmond Halley was largely known for his contributions to astronomy and calculating the orbit of the comet named after him (Halley’s comet). He was also a mathematician and credited with developing one of the first life tables in 1693.

Charles Gill was an actuary for only six and a half years due to his untimely death at age 50. In April 1849, Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company appointed him its mathematician, but he soon was hired by Mutual Life of New York for mortality studies and premium revision.

Considered to be one of the most influential authors in the 20th century, Franz Kafka’s works include The Metamorphosis, The Trial and The Castle, to name a few. Kafka worked as an insurance executive during the day—handling claims as well as other business functions.


If you have any historical information that would be suitable for publication in TIMELESS, please email Jacque Kirkwood, staff editor, The Actuary.

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