Midland National Life traces 21st-century philosophy to its founders' ideals
Under a leafy tree depicted on Midland National Life Insurance Co.’s original seal — set amid a continuous circle of acorns — reads the phrase “Oaks from acorns grow,” paraphrasing the firm’s official slogan conceived in 1906.
Derived from the company’s official motto — “Great Oaks from Little Acorns Grow” — it was first used when the company was still in its fledgling state. In fact, well over a century ago Midland National even went by another name. What Midwesterners now know as Midland National Life Insurance Co. originally went by the moniker of Dakota Mutual Life Insurance Co.
When in 1909 it ultimately became a publicly traded company, it converted with the intention of making it easier to raise capital, thus facilitating growth.
But plenty of action led to that transformation; events, in fact, logged securely thanks to precise documentation on the part of the company’s forefathers and careful preservation of records.
“The company that would eventually evolve into Midland National Life Insurance Co. was born on a late summer evening in the Black Hills of South Dakota,” states the company on its website.
How exactly did that come to pass?
Prior to May 1906, related expenses were duly recorded among six South Dakota-based businessmen: John Walsh, Joseph Moore, Charles Turney, Claude Sterling, Daniel Bannister and Fred Smith. The faction then gathered at the Smead Hotel in the western South Dakota town of Lead in Lawrence County — located in the Black Hills close to the Wyoming state line and still in existence as a city today; albeit a very small one, with a population of less than 3,125 (as of the 2010 census).
Achieving two outcomes, they simultaneously organized a hierarchy and authorized "legal notice of the company's intention to begin business."
While the six gentlemen proceeded to elect officers without incident, they remained unsettled on the entity’s exact name until August 1906, when records show that a draft of its incorporation articles was submitted to state authorities under the name of Western Mutual Life Insurance Co.
Thus the firm began on Aug. 30, 1906 — and opened for business on Sept. 4 of that same year.
Capitalization, or putting up some ante, took shape relatively easily: each of the six directors agreed to apply for a $1,000 life insurance policy with the company; and additionally to invest a $300 assessment fee apiece.
While those were big bucks for that time period, the initial pot actually proved skimpy when it came time to process the new company’s very first death claim. Still operating under the Western Mutual label, the company found itself scrounging for sufficient funding to pay its premiere settlement, now exactly 100 years ago.
“When the first death claim came early in 1908, it was necessary for Bramble and Hanten to borrow the funds needed to pay the claim,” company records state, noting ironically that the claim was for the spouse of an original officer.
Nettie Smith, wife of Fred Smith of the original board of directors, perished from appendicitis at 38. Her dual place in the company’s history not only points to the deep commitment of its founders — who personally invested in the company — but also speaks to the fact that the company’s roots derive from a completely different era in health care, longevity and mortality, as well as economics.
While the Smead Hotel met its demise in 1923, it remains the birthplace of Midland.
Operating nowadays under the auspices of the Sammons Financial Group, the Midland National Life Insurance Co. remains firmly anchored in the American historical landscape.