In this high-tech age of instant gratification, history sometimes takes a back seat. But history is important because we learn from it. 2021 marks the quasquicentennial (125th) anniversary of the Big “I," which formed in 1896 as the National Association of Local Fire Insurance Agents when Grover Cleveland was president of the U.S.
The first independent agent, John Maynard Davis, started his business in South Carolina in 1795. The first local agent board was established in 1838 in Cincinnati, and the second in 1846 in Cleveland. The oldest state associations, New York and New Jersey, formed in the following decades. According to “Soaring With Eagles," a history of the Big “I," agent boards were strongholds in the nation's cities but had little coordination among them. Enter the formation of the national association—the glue that pulled the local boards and fledgling state associations together, providing a uniform voice and direction.
We've had seminal moments in our history, perhaps most notably our win in the famed Yonkers case of 1904, which solidified agents' ownership of expirations and secured their future. “Any member who ever wonders what (the Big 'I') has done for the American agency system should be reminded of the Yonkers victory," according to “Soaring With Eagles." Without the Big “I," companies would own brokers' custom lists, which are now an agency's foundation.
Our accomplishments are immeasurable. We ended a decades-long feud with the banking industry in a historic compromise that protected agencies from the force of credit tie-ins. We formed an industry bank—InsurBanc—built a co-brand—Trusted Choice®—and offered access to markets. Who would have thought the Big “I" would be a PGA Tour sponsor or have Raymond Burr as our spokesman?
As the independent agency system has evolved, some things haven't changed: the adaptability, resiliency, strength, community spirit and optimism of its entrepreneurs. Despite the many challenges we have faced over 125 years, these qualities endure to this day.
Stay tuned throughout the year to learn what Big “I" history means for your profession. Happy 125th to the Big "I"!