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Chicago Title History

Chicago Title and Trust Co. dates back more than 150 years through the succession of several firms and corporations that were engage in the abstract and title business in Cook County, Illinois.

The year was 1847; Chicago was booming. Almost 17,000 persons called it home... and new pioneers were streaming in steadily to grasp the opportunities for independence, which the rich prairie soil promised.

An obscure young law clerk, Edward A. Rucker, devised a system of keeping track of every recorded instrument and legal proceeding affecting real estate titles. This saved attorneys the laborious task of searching official records in connection with transfers of real property. It was a valuable service that was welcomed.

Rucker hung out his shingle in the Saloon Building... then, later that year, joined with James H. Rees in the Merchants' Exchange.

As the city grew, abstract indices similar to Rees' and Rucker's were established by J. Mason Parker in 1852 and Fernando Jones in 1863. This was the foundation of what was to become Chicago Title and Trust Co. (CT&T).

In 1868, Charles C. Chase entered the firm, which became Chase Brothers & Co., one of the three abstract businesses in Chicago at the time of the Great Fire of 1871.

James H. Rees, a prominent real estate man, joined law clerk Edward A. Rucker in 1847 in Chicago's first land title abstract business. Carrying on alone after Rucker's departure from the abstract business in 1850, he partnered with Samuel B. Chase in 1852. The firm of Rees & Chase later became Chase Brothers, upon Rees' departure.

Thus, in October 1871, when the Great Chicago Fire laid waste a large portion of the city and destroyed all of the official Cook County real estate records stored in the office of the county recorder, there were three abstract firms in business - Chase Brothers and Co.; Shortall and Hoard; and Jones and Sellers.

When the fire spread into the present Loop district and consumed the public buildings and records, three companies - Shortall and Hoard, Jones and Sellers and Chase Brothers and Co. - had snatched their records from the inferno. Soon they were housed together in the untouched western outskirts of the city.

Less than three weeks after the conflagration, the Chicago Times made the following editorial statements:

"There has been absolute destruction of all legal evidence of titles to property in Cook County. The annoyance, calamity and actual distress that will arise from this misfortune are not yet properly appreciated. Something equal to the necessities of the case must be done quickly.

"We have in Chicago three firms - Shortall and Hoard, Jones and Sellers and Chase Brothers and Co. - who have saved nearly all of their papers, including the indices to every piece of property in Cook County, and actual abstracts to a large proportion of this property. We have one firm - J.H. Rees and Co. - who has saved copies of all the maps and all the plats ever made of Cook County property.

"Nobody has hesitated, heretofore, to accept their copies of the records as official - why should not some equitable plan be provided now, by which these copies, carefully compared and compiled, should become official?"

Burnt Records Act

Eventually, this consolidation took place under the somewhat expanded title of Chase Brothers, Jones, Sellers, Shortall and Hoard. In April 1872, the Burnt Records Act was passed by the Illinois Legislature, and the existing abstract records of the three companies were made admissible as evidence in all courts of record. These were part of the framework on which Chicagoans began to rebuild a greater Chicago.

The combined books were moved to a store building on the north side of Lake Street between Peoria and Green streets. After a time, the old firm turned the business and a lease of its books over to the newly organized firm of Handy, Simmons, Smith and Stocker. This firm became Handy, Simmons and Co., and this was followed by Handy and Co., under which the business was continued until 1887.

The title abstract business in Chicago was forever altered by the Great Fire of Oct. 8-9, 1871. The dramatic rescue of title books from doomed abstract businesses proved a greater public good when all official land records were lost. John G. Shortall, who forced a passing wagon driver at gunpoint to load his records, would thereafter be remembered for more than the arrangement of legal conveyances.

Trust Powers

In 1887, Illinois passed the General Trust Company Act, which granted qualified corporations the right to act as executor, administrator, guardian and trustee, and as fiduciary in other capacities. In that same year the Handy firm was succeeded by the Title Guarantee and Trust Co., which qualified as a trust company under the new act.

Thus, Chicago Title and Trust Co. derives its trust powers by succession from the first trust company authorized under the General Trust Company Act of 1887.

First Title Policy

In 1888 came another action giving Chicago real estate owners a new and far more complete protection of their titles to real estate. The Title Guarantee and Trust Co. issued the first title guarantee policy in Illinois, protecting the owner against loss if the title as guaranteed was found invalid.

It was a new kind of protection, more commonly known today as real estate title insurance. To Chicago it brought a new element of stability in property ownership. Now, since titles were insured, Chicagoans needed no longer fear that the ghost of a former owner would rise out of the past to threaten the ownership of their homes or businesses. Loans were more available to property buyers and home builders, and Chicago's growth was given a new impetus. The company was now settled on Washington Street between Dearborn and Clark streets, where it and its successors were to be until 1947. Three years later, in 1891, the name of the company was changed to Chicago Title and Trust Co.

In 1887, the Handy firm was succeeded by the Title Guarantee and Trust Co., which early the next year issued the state's first title guarantee policy. Property owners could now purchase insurance to guard their interests if their titles were found to be imperfect.

In 1893, the Title Guarantee and Trust Co. moved into a new building at 69 W. Washington. Designed by Henry Ives Cobb, the building boasted terra cotta, ornamental iron work and seven hydraulic elevators; its spacious abstract department was lit both electrically and by sunlight.

Through the years, Chicago Title and Trust Co. has grown along with Chicago. It was not until the 1920s that the scope of the company's business was extended beyond Cook County, Ill. In December 1930, a small regional office was established in Springfield, Ill. In the late 1940s, Chicago Title and Trust Co. moved to 111 W. Washington St. and continued developing and expanding its extensive statewide organization.

The 1950's was a decade of looking beyond the borders of Illinois. These efforts were so successful that on Aug. 30, 1961, a separate entity was created to do national title insurance business as a wholly owned subsidiary of Chicago Title and Trust Co. - Chicago Title Insurance Co.

In 1947, Chicago Title and Trust Co. moved half a block, to the Conway Building at 111 W. Washington. The building later took the name of the Chicago Title and Trust Co. (CT&T). After CT&T's departure, the name was changed to the Burnham Center.

Company interest in its employees took a more serious form in World War II, when some (like Jacob F. Giel of the Final Examiners department) went into combat and never returned.

Banners from CT&T employee newsletters from 1923 and 1942. "The Little Index" was the first employee newsletter and "Victory Topics" was published during World War II.

In 1969, Chicago Title and Trust Co. itself became a wholly owned subsidiary of Lincoln National Corp. in Fort Wayne, Ind. On June 27, 1985, Lincoln National Corp. and Alleghany Corp. announced that Alleghany, a New York-based publicly held company, had purchased all of the outstanding stock of Chicago Title and Trust Co. Through its subsidiaries, Alleghany also is engaged in the businesses of mining and filtration, and property and casualty reinsurance.


Acquired on Jan. 21, 1987, Chicago Title and Trust Co. announced the purchase of SAFECO Title Insurance Co., a national title insurer based in California with a history dating back to 1908. In 1988, SAFECO changed its name to Security Union Title Insurance Co., a name derived from Union Title & Abstract Co. and Security Title and Guarantee Co., two predecessor companies of SAFECO Title.

Ticor Title Companies

Purchased on March 8, 1991, the Ticor Title companies were acquired by Chicago Title and Trust Co. The Ticor Title group is now composed of two companies: Ticor Title Insurance Co. and Ticor Title Guarantee Co. Ticor Title's heritage can be traced to 1893 with the merger of two abstract companies

In 1992, Chicago Title and Trust Co. and Chicago Title Insurance Co. moved their corporate headquarters to the new Chicago Title and Trust Center, located at 171 N. Clark St. in Chicago. The 50-story post-modern edifice is located on a historic parcel of property, the site of the city's first city hall and municipal courthouse and one of its predecessor companies.

Moving Forward

In 1995, the company restructured its financial services businesses under a new name: Alleghany Asset Management Inc. Alleghany Asset provides mutual fund and investment management and advisory services and is composed of Montag & Caldwell, Inc. (Atlanta), The Chicago Trust Co. (also established in 1995) and Chicago Deferred Exchange Corp. Alleghany Asset has total assets under management in excess of $21.3 billion.

During 1997, CT&T celebrated its 150 year anniversary. Our company was honored by the city of Chicago and the Illinois State Historical Society, as well as the state of Indiana and others.

In October of 1997, CTT introduced CastleLink, the company's single source mortgage service for major national mortgage lenders.

On December 17, 1997 Alleghany Corp. announced its intention to establish the title insurance and real estate-related services businesses conducted by CT&T as an independent, publicly traded company through a spin-off to Alleghany stockholders.

On June 17th this spin off was complete and Chicago Title Corporation became independent, publicly traded company with the ticker symbol "CTZ". For the full year 1998, we achieved record financial performance, with all market sectors contributing to these results.

Being a public company we continued to grow through our many acquisitions. We announced 10 acquisitions in 1998 and early 1999. This included a number of companies that broaden our presence with national originators and servicers. In 1998, we acquired Universal Mortgage Services Inc., now known as Chicago Title Field Services, which provides property inspection, preservation and maintenance services nationwide. Shortly thereafter, we entered the business of providing foreclosure and reconveyance services with the acquisition of California-based Consolidated Reconveyance Co.

The acquisition of Westfall & Company, a mortgage servicing company, further enhanced the servicing sector of the residential mortgage business. We also acquired two of the largest and most experienced escrow providers in California, Escondido Escrow and Ranch & Coast Escrow. The former is also one of the leading timeshare escrow organizations in the nation.

Our title agency acquisitions were deliberately focused on growth markets with higher-than-average housing turnover rates, including United Title of Nevada, which has operations throughout the state, and Yuma Title and Trust Co., one of the leading title agencies in Yuma County, Arizona. In early 1999, we completed three other significant acquisitions when we purchased Phoenix-based Security Title, the largest independent agency in Arizona, as well as Blue Ridge Title of Charlottesville, Virginia and Island Title of Oak Harbor, Washington.

Another source of strategic growth is alliances. Again, only a national company with our scope and resources is a candidate for the kind of activities that will let us penetrate markets in new ways. At year-end 1998, we announced a new strategic alliance with Cendant Corporation. Chicago Title will have a preferred relationship facilitating title insurance transactions for Cendant's COLDWELL BANKER®, Century 21®, and ERA®, franchises and their clients. Also in 1998, Chicago Title Credit Services signed a letter of intent with Trans Union to enter into an affiliation arrangement through which Trans Union and its affiliates may use our merged credit reports.

Chicago Title Corporation achieved a major milestone in 1999 when it signed a definitive agreement on August 1 to be acquired by Fidelity National Financial, Inc., creating the pre-eminent company in the title insurance industry. The historic merger was finalized in March 20, 2000.

The strategic rationale for this merger was one of superlatives. Fidelity and Chicago Title have nationally recognized and respected brand names, a history of quality service, and excellent financial performance. The combined organization is the largest in the industry in terms of revenues, profits, market share, assets and claims-paying reserves.

Furthermore, the combined company is the largest title insurer and provider of real estate related products and services in the world; distinguished by an unsurpassed distribution system comprised of over 1,000 offices and 7,000 agents, leading market share in excess of 30%, geographic diversity, complementary business mixes and the strongest financial position in the industry.

Fidelity National Financial, Inc. (NYSE:FNF), is a leading provider of title insurance, specialty insurance, claims management services and information services.  FNF is one of the nation's largest title insurance companies through its title insurance underwriters - Fidelity National Title, Chicago Title, Ticor Title, Security Union Title and Alamo Title - that issue approximately 28 percent of all title insurance policies in the United States.  FNF also provides flood insurance, personal lines insurance and home warranty insurance through its specialty insurance business.  FNF also is a leading provider of outsourced claims management services to large corporate and public sector entities through its minority-owned subsidiary, Sedgwick CMS.  FNF is also a leading information services company in the human resource, retail and transportation markets through another minority-owned subsidiary, Ceridian Corporation.  More information about FNF can be found at

And we look forward to the journey ahead.

For more information on the Great Chicago Fire, click here to view the Chicago Historical Society's special page, "The Great Chicago Fire and The Web of Memory."