What started out 75 years ago as a 32-member group has grown to nearly 30,000 strong today. 1927: It was the year that Charles Lindbergh made the first nonstop transatlantic flight in The Spirit of St. Louis. The year of the first transatlantic telephone call. And the year that “Babe” Ruth became the first professional baseball player to hit 60 home runs in a single season. On October 13 of that year, the first Million Dollar Round Table meeting was held at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.

As reported by National Underwriter, one member rose and spoke following this historic first meeting saying, “he had never expected so much and gotten so little from any meeting, and he regarded the two hours time spent as time absolutely wasted.”

Reports from that first meeting conveyed the opinions of some in attendance that these successful producers “talk a great deal, but reveal nothing of practical value to those that hear them.”

This may have been the opinion held by some attendees, but over time the meeting agenda evolved–adding the first nonmember to the speaking program in 1929.

The 32-member organization quickly grew–adding the first woman qualifier in 1928, as well as accepting qualifiers from abroad. MDRT almost immediately became an international organization, with representation from Canada, Australia, England, Japan and South Africa, among others.

Throughout the difficult economic times of the 1930s, MDRT continued to grow–and as more members qualified, the need grew to more formalize the operations of the organization. A formal application was developed and the first official bylaws were adopted in 1938.

At this time, the average age of a member was 45, with 15 years of experience in the business. The average amount of insurance written was $1.5 million annually.

When 1941 saw the entry of the United States into World War II, MDRT decided to cancel the meeting in 1942 and again in 1945. Throughout the course of the war, 24 members of MDRT served their country. The organization effectively “froze” its memberships while they served.

At the end of the war, changes in the tax code brought about the unlimited marital deduction, which quickly became an important estate-planning tool for MDRT members.

In 1959, the Million Dollar Round Table Foundation was formed. It would eventually lend its support to more than 1,400 charitable organizations, with gifts totaling over $10 million.

Then, in 1961, following a presentation by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler at the annual meeting, the Whole Person concept was introduced. This concept, which remains a touchstone among MDRT members, focuses on maintaining a balance in all aspects of an agents life–family, health, education, career, service, financial and spiritual. Many agents today recognize this concept as something that has dramatically changed their lives.

The 1960s carried a focus of education, with MDRT donating several scholarships to numerous colleges and universities. And at the end of the decade in 1969, the MDRT Foundation committed $1.5 million to finance the building of Foundation Hall at the American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

In 1977, an elite group of members called “Top of the Table,” was formed. The group consisted of MDRT members who submitted a minimum of $5 million of insurance protection in a single year.

A few years later, in the mid-1980s, the organization recognized that members would benefit from an intermediate membership tier that fell between the normal membership requirements and Top of the Table. Thus, the Court of the Table was established.

By 1985, the minimum production requirement for MDRT membership had increased to $2.3 million, with TOT minimum production at $12.75 million. The new Court of the Table tier was for members who produced at least three times what was required for MDRT membership.

The membership level peaked at just over 28,000 at this time–a level that MDRT would not see again until present day.

In 1986, MDRT changed production requirements to recognize first-year commissions, rather than insurance production. Those initial levels were $27,000 to qualify for MDRT, $81,000 for COT, and $162,000 for TOT.

In each year since, commission requirements continued to increase, and membership levels hovered around 19,000 until 1999, when total membership exceeded 20,000 for the first time since 1986.

Todays MDRT membership exceeds 28,000–with over 50% of those from countries outside the United States. It is unlikely that even the founding 32 members could ever have imagined the diversity found in todays organization.

According to officials at MDRT, breakout sessions at this years annual meeting were translated into 12 different languages.

In 2002, MDRT continues to reach out to potential new members. Agents may now qualify based on the amount of premium production, rather than commissions. And, for the first time in its 75-year history, MDRT announced that membership in the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (formerly NALU) is no longer a requirement for MDRT membership.

Before the first meeting back in 1927, a reporter wrote, “If this idea proves as successful as its sponsors hope it will be, it is expected that the Million Dollar Round Table will become a permanent group where important sales ideas will annually or more frequently be brought forward and passed on to newer producers.”

Today, three-quarters of a century later, there is no doubt the MDRT has gloriously fulfilled its sponsors hopes–and more.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, December 2, 2002. Copyright 2002 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.