On the second floor of our corporate headquarters, at the top of the stairs, a framed document is mounted to the wall outside of our Commercial Lines Division. It is faded and yellowed after existing more than a century, slightly creased, lightly tattered, but still in excellent condition. It is an original insurance policy signed by John Wheeler Sanford, himself. John W. Sanford is the founder of our company, John W. Sanford & Son, Inc. Our companies’ roots date back to the 1860’s when John and his father George, added Fire Insurance to their real estate ventures.
The policy was purchased through the “German-American Insurance Company of New York”, which was founded in 1872 by William F. Heins with $1 million dollars in Capital. (As an interesting aside, in 1918, the German-American Insurance Company changed their name to the Great American Insurance Company due to anti-German sentiment that arose in the United States and abroad during World War 1.)
The framed policy is for Fire Insurance, written for a homeowner named “Peter” who was looking to protect a “two-story, shingle roof, frame building” in Pine Island, NY The policy was written on the “22 day of May, 1901” and lasts a term of three years. The premium is listed at $42. The amount of coverage is $600. The house allowance is $500, the furniture, $100.
Reading the document, is an insight to the past, but also the present. Policies are now delivered to clients via computer printouts and DocuSign … as opposed to typed and handwritten. Information gathered for quotes is gathered in an electronic form format and presented to the client in a comparative spreadsheet, but much of the language and content still exist in the insurance world today. More than 100 years later, it is astounding, how little of “the core of the insurance industry” has shifted. Although the technology changes, the heart and soul of the insurance industry, protecting people … families in our community, small business, non-profits, churches and fire houses, remains.
What is truly touching about the document that is mounted to the wall on the second floor of our headquarters is the signature of “John W. Sanford” at the foot of the page. I can’t help but glance at his handwriting, and smile, each time I ascend or descend the stairs. I hope that he is pleased, that his legacy lives on. And that the practices and standards that were established in the insurance industry over 100 years ago, still endure.