On June 1, 1893, Henderson Brothers began as a steamboat packet line moving people and goods up and down the Ohio River.
So how did our focus shift to insurance, employee benefits and retirement solutions? The answer involves two brothers managing the many risks of river travel to protect their clients.
The Panic of 1893
The Panic of 1893

The Panic of 1893 was one of the worst financial crises in the history of the United States. By June, hundreds of banks had suspended operations, and the effects of a resultant depression would be felt for another 5 years. This was known as “The Great Depression” until the more significant contraction occurred in the 1930s; the unemployment rate stood at nearly 20%.

Carnegie Steel
Carnegie Steel

The newly formed Carnegie Steel produced more steel than the British Empire with most of it due to railroad expansion.

Captain James A. Henderson
Captain James A. Henderson

Despite economic uncertainty and railroad growth, Henderson Brothers began its life in 1893 as a steamboat packet line led by Steamboat Captain James A. Henderson, as seen here on the old Monongahela Wharf.

The Birth of a Business
Henderson Brothers 1893 Charter Announcement

Captain James A. Henderson and his brother-in-law, George Johnson, took a controlling stake in the Pittsburgh & Cincinnati Packet Line when it was reorganized and chartered in Pittsburg* on June 1, 1893. This date is recognized as the birthday of Henderson Brothers. (*Please Note: Pittsburgh was temporarily stripped of its ‘h’ in 1891 by the United States Board on Geographic Names)

The Challenges of Steamboat Travel
Sultana Disaster

Riverboat travel was hazardous. From 1811 to 1851, 21% of river accidents were caused by a steam explosion. Boilers built pressure to power paddleboats. If these tanks were not adequately monitored or maintained, the result could be a violent and deadly explosion. Another danger of river travel was a ‘snag.’ A snag is an unforeseen obstacle that damages or causes a boat to sink. Snags might include sunken boats or trees. It was rare for a steamboat to last five years.

The Henderson Brothers Join the P&CPL
Marshall and AJ Henderson

Due to the hazards of steamboat travel, ensuring boats and their cargo was vital for a successful packet line. Captain Henderson’s sons, A.J. and Marshall, came to work alongside him to take up this responsibility.

The Launch of the Queen City
Queen City Launch 1897

The Pittsburg & Cincinnati Packet Line launched “The Queen City” (above) and her sister boat “Virginia.” to attract more affluent passengers with deluxe packet ships for pleasure trips between Pittsburg and Cincinnati. The shift in business away from cargo directly resulted from increased railroad competition.

The Pittsburg Pirates Play in the First World Series
Exposition Park Pittsburgh

The Pittsburg Pirates (shown playing at Exhibition Park in old Allegheny City, now the city’s Northside) lost the best of nine games to the Boston Americans in the first-ever modern World Series.

First Motion Picture Theater
Nickelodeon Motion Picture Theater

The world’s first theater dedicated solely to motion pictures, Nickelodeon, opened on Smithfield Street in Pittsburg. Its name came from the price(nickel) plus the Greek name for the concert hall, Odeon.  

Competitive Pressure
Competitive Pressure

The pressure of railroad competition finally overwhelms the market for steamboats; the P&CPL is forced into receivership.

Beginning anew as Henderson Brothers
Beginning anew as Henderson Brothers

Recognizing the opportunity to continue insuring commerce and property, the Pittsburgh & Cincinnati Packet Line is reorganized as Henderson Brothers, with AJ and Marshall Henderson as majority stakeholders and Captain Henderson in an advisory role. Steamboat operations cease, and assets are sold.

Henderson Brothers is chartered with the primary purpose of brokering insurance.

Pittsburgh Gets its ‘H’ Back

In 1911, the US Geographic Board reversed its decision and gave Pittsburgh its ‘h’ back . This was after the Board, in 1891, had decided to rename Pittsburgh by referencing printed copies of the 1816 city charter which featured the spelling Pittsburg rather than Pittsburgh.   

First Commercial Radio Broadcast in Pittsburgh
KDKA radio broadcast

In November of 1920, Pittsburgh’s Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company transmitted the first scheduled broadcast under the name KDKA.

The Cathedral of Learning
Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning

Construction begins on the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. It would briefly be the tallest university structure on Earth until Stalin’s Moscow State University Main Building was finished with a 784 ft spire to make it taller.

Jack Kelly and Rose McMinn Kelly assumed a majority share of Henderson Brothers.

Rose, Thomas E. Grealish’s Aunt, served as the President of Henderson Brothers.

Polio Vaccine Developed
Jonas Salk Polio

The University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. Jonas Salk announced a successful test on a small group of adults and children for the polio vaccine developed by his team.

Thomas E. Grealish Purchases Henderson Brothers
Thomas Grealish Portrait

Thomas E. Grealish, purchased the company from his aunt, Rose McMinn Kelly, and hired his brother-in-law, John Philbin. They keep the name Henderson Brothers out of respect for Captain Henderson, his sons, and their legacy in the region.

Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood Begins
Fred Rogers

The first national broadcast of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Fred Rogers initially appeared on The Children’s Corner on Pittsburgh’s WQED beginning in 1954.

The First Smiley Face Emoticon

CMU computer scientist, Scott Fahlman, created the smiley emotion to mark humorous or sarcastic posts on the University’s online bulletin boards. In the original post the sideways smiley face was called a “joke marker.”  : – )

South Hills Insurance Agency Acquisition

Henderson Brothers acquires the South Hills Insurance Agency, Inc. to expand its size and regional footprint.

Brothers Thomas B. and Daniel P. Grealish assume company control

With Thomas E. Grealish‘s counsel, the brothers mapped out a succession plan after he became terminally ill.

The Benefits Practice Begins

Henderson Brothers expands beyond property & casualty to offer healthcare benefits products, including health, group, group life, and long-term disability insurance. Today our benefits practice is one of the largest in the region.

New Headquarters
New Headquarters

Henderson Brothers’ current headquarters is purchased at 920 Fort Duquesne Boulevard, and its office locations are consolidated there for a grand opening on May 1, 1999.

Conover & Associates Aquisition

Henderson Brothers acquires Conover & Associates, Inc., Insurance Agency.

HB Retirement Begins

HB Retirement is founded as an independent retirement plan consulting and wealth management firm. Today the firm has grown to over 300 plans with thousands of individual participants served.

Daniel W. Grealish Joins Henderson Brothers
Daniel W. Grealish

When Daniel joined Henderson Brothers, he became the fourth-generation family member at the firm.

125th Anniversary
The 2018 Annual Meeting

The city of Pittsburgh declares April 24, 2018, as “Henderson Brothers Day” with an official proclamation. Henderson Brothers celebrates with customers and its employees.

Generations have turned to Henderson Brothers for insurance and expertise through four panics, two depressions, and twenty recessions.
Today, thousands of clients continue to value our heroic service and trust our advice; they expect an expert to provide unparalleled expertise, industry-leading solutions, and world-class customer satisfaction. We remain an independent family business, committed to our community through extensive sponsorship and volunteering.


  1. Federal Reserve History: Banking Panics of the Gilded Age
  2. “Andrew Carnegie | Biography & Facts” Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  3. Georgetown Steamboats: Pitt and Cincinnati Packet Line
  4. The Ohio Memory: Queen City Steamboat Photograph
  5. After a frightening start, the brothers found their feet and kept the insurance company growing, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 21, 2016
  6. A History of Steamboats, The Army Corps of Engineers
  7. Family Business Awards: Henderson Brothers was started by a steamboat captainThe Pittsburgh Business Times, May 3, 2019