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87 years in life insurance history

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After a full 87 years, this is the last stand-alone issue of Life Insurance Selling. Summit Professional Networks, publisher of Life Insurance Selling, has decided to merge the magazine with our sister publication, National Underwriter Life & Health, effective January 2014. (For more about the strategy behind this move, see my December column. 

While many of the best elements of Life Insurance Selling and its life insurance producer-focused content will live on in the new National Underwriter Life & Health, we would be remiss not to remind readers about the long and distinguished history of this magazine.

Countless legends of the industry have graced these pages over the decades, sharing their insight with peers in a collective effort to help sell more life insurance to Americans who need it — the magazine’s editorial mission from the start. 

The rich history of Life Insurance Selling

Living in Des Moines, Iowa, back in the early 1920s, Donald H. Clark dreamed of a different kind of insurance magazine for the rapidly growing insurance industry — a magazine that would consist only of ideas for selling life insurance. Clark, who in 1923 moved to St. Louis to manage Mid-Continent Banker for Clifford DePuy’s publishing company, wouldn’t give up on the idea. According to a story about the history of Life Insurance Selling in the magazine’s 25th-anniversary issue in January 1951, Clark’s conviction that there was a real opportunity and need for a specialized sales-idea magazine for the life insurance field continued to grow.

After James J. Wengert, another DePuy employee from Des Moines, joined Clark in St. Louis, the idea of the magazine started to come into focus. Clark and Wengert bought the rights to the idea, the name Life Insurance Selling (which had been decided back in Des Moines), and set up a new corporation, Life Insurance Publishing Company (soon changed to Commerce Publishing Company). In 1925, Clark became manager and majority stockholder, and Wengert was owner of most of the remaining shares.

The first pocket-sized issue of Life Insurance Selling was mailed to a carefully selected list of 3,000 agents — “better-class agents who would pay out money to get tested sales ideas.” Agents responded positively, forking over the $1 subscription price so they could carry each issue of Life Insurance Selling in their coat pockets “to read while you wait to see a prospect,” according to the magazine’s promotional literature.

By January 1936, LIS boasted a paid circulation of 11,500. To get through the Great Depression, the basic “tested sales ideas” editorial policy remained, but it was broadened from primarily quick sales tips to more comprehensive articles discussing sales philosophies as well as insight from nationally known life insurance salesmen.

Departments like “Million Dollar Sales Ideas” from MDRT members and “Points That Help You Sell” remained fixtures of the magazine for decades, as did annual coverage of events — NALU (now NAIFA) and MDRT conferences in particular — as well as product categories.

LIS was a creature of habit for much of its life, frequently devoting January covers to retirement plans, February to health insurance, March to annuities, April to disability insurance, May to universal life, June to payroll deduction, July to special risks, August to MDRT, September to financial planning, October to automation (and survivorship life), November to whole life and December to long-term care insurance.

Another constant was multiple articles in every issue from producers sharing the secrets to their success with their peers. They were often titled, “How I…” or “How to…” followed by exactly what that producer did particularly well: “How I operate my Birthday Club mailing system” (October 1964) for example. “My most unforgettable sale” was another recurring feature title that served to motivate and inspire producers.

While it would be difficult in this space to mention all of the important people and developments that molded Life Insurance Selling into such a valuable resource for generations of producers, what follows is a look at some of the notable milestones in the life of an 87-year-old brand.

Thanks for being with us for this great ride, and please stay with us as we transition into the next stage, as a big part of the new National Underwriter Life and Health come January 2014.


sA clear direction from the start

The first issue of Life Insurance Selling premiered in January 1926. It was “published in the interests of life insurance — for the life insurance salesman,” by the Life Insurance Publishing Company in St. Louis. Donald. H. Clark was the editor and manager, and the magazine offered a two-year subscription for $1, or ten cents for a single copy. Here is how Clark introduced Life Insurance Selling to the world:

“Nothing great was ever accomplished without Inspiration and Enthusiasm,” says Emerson.

To these qualities, common to every successful insurance man, “Life Insurance Selling” is dedicated. In the promotion of such qualities in every life insurance agent who reads it, “Life Insurance Selling” pledges its support. “Life Insurance Selling” is not “just another magazine.” It does not aim merely to amuse you, to help you while away an idle hour. It has a definite and distinct purpose — it will try to increase your pep, inspire your insurance mind, and help you sell more insurance. The articles in “Life Insurance Selling” will be brief, and to the point. The entire editorial contents each month will be devoted to articles on life insurance — and how to sell it.

Clark went on to opine that while the average salary for a lawyer in 1925 was $4,169 and $3,907 for a physician, a Western life insurance company reported that the average income of its fifty leaders, a year ago, was $12,600. “In no other business does a man’s income depend so largely upon his own energy and his own hard work,” Clark wrote. “The insurance man himself determines the number of calls he will make a day, and the amount of study he will put in, to make himself a trained life insurance counselor. What is your quota for 1926?”


l“The stock market crash booms insurance”

Excerpt of an article in the January 1930 issue by Arthur W. Watwood, branch manager for Business Men’s Assurance Company in Aberdeen, S.D.

“In the recent stock market crash, during the short period of six weeks […] stocks of our various American business concerns, listed on Wall Street markets, were depreciated over thirty-two billion dollars. […] Staggering and disastrous as this loss may seem, from a business standpoint, life insurance salesmen may point as never before to the real value and purpose of their great work. There are no fluctuations, inflations, or depreciations in the value of life insurance. Our values are guaranteed.”

 “World’s largest producer tells you how to sell”

C.P. Rogge, of New York City, accepted a challenge to sell $15 million of insurance in 1929 — andd ultimately sold more than $16 million. In his article, Rogge told of his epiphany “for selling life insurance in this modern day and age.” After an irritable prospect cut him short by saying, “You don’t have to sell me. I have a pair of eyes to judge for myself,” Rogge canned his rehearsed sales speech and started using “eye-appeal cards” featuring concise details from special policies. This technique made him the world’s top-selling life insurance agent at the time, and he was more than willing to share it with his peers via the pages of Life Insurance Selling. He concluded his article this way: “There’s no patent on my methods. Would you like to try them? They are yours. Hop to it. At the same time you might ask your wife whether she would like a Cadillac or a Rolls Royce — a mink or a sable coat. Because you’ll be able to pay for them shortly.”

lAnnual CLU issue debuts

As the Great Depression deepened in the mid-1930s, Life Insurance Selling realized that better-educated life underwriters were important to the industry and that the Chartered Life Underwriter movement was a step in the right direction. LIS inaugurated its CLU issue in 1935 and carried on that tradition every year until the CLU movement had reached such proportions that a CLU designation following an author’s name was no longer a novelty. Dr. Solomon Huebner, founder of The American College of Life Underwriters, wrote of the growth of the CLU movement and its place in underwriting in the March 1935 issue.


lLife Insurance and World War II

In the midst of World War II in 1942, Life Insurance Selling devoted significant coverage to how the war effort was impacting the industry, and more importantly, how the industry was protecting the country. Billions of life insurance dollars were helping to finance the war effort, thousands of life underwriters were selling war bonds, and life insurance payments were taking the burden off the federal government. While we’re showing the patriotic July 1942 cover here, the following excerpt actually comes from the October 1942 “Life insurance and the war” issue of the magazine:

“The institution of life insurance is performing its fundamental role in the war economy. It becomes increasingly clear, day after day, that life insurance is playing a vital role in the war effort and will play a vital role in the post-war days to follow. Life insurance is one of the great stabilizing factors in our economy and as such it has today and will continue to have in the future an important position in the social-economic structure of America.”Holgar J. Johnson, president, Institute of Life Insurance

Life Insurance Selling gets biggers

By 1945, Life Insurance Selling had outgrown its pocket size, so in 1946, it became a full-size magazine with an even broader editorial scope. Short little sales nuggets like the ever-popular “Points That Help You Sell” and MDRT-inspired “Million Dollar Sales Ideas” still had their place in the magazine, but career-oriented life underwriters by now had graduated from carrying the magazine in their coat pockets and preferred to include it with their well-organized sales portfolios.


s25th anniversary progress report

For its 25th anniversary in 1951, Life Insurance Selling devoted its January issue to “A Report on Life Insurance Progress 1926-1951.” By this time, LIS founders Donald H. Clark and James J. Wengert, both still leading the publication, had hired Richard C. Budlong, CLU, as the editor. Here is an excerpt from a letter Budlong wrote to readers about the report:

In January 1926 the life insurance business had come a long way from its early beginnings. The business was growing by leaps and bounds then, and progressive ideas had been planted and were beginning to grow. Still, in spite of the long depression of the 30’s the progress made since then has been beyond the fondest expectations of life insurance people.

In order to record effectively the progress that has been made in the field of life underwriting during this period we have asked a number of life insurance leaders to join with us in this great report of the progress of the last 25 years. Each one of these non-staff authors is a recognized authority on the topic he has discussed.

As a magazine of selling, we salute the progress the industry has made in the distribution of its products. Only in one article in this issue do we refer to our own history. This is not an issue devoted to Life Insurance Selling’s record, but to the record of the life insurance business.

Cooley launches “Why Don’t You Try This?” column s

Retired New England Life agent Harold P. Cooley started writing “Why Don’t You Try This?” in the May 1959 issue. The column “of practical selling ideas for life underwriters” ran every month through February 1983, when Cooley retired at the age of 92. Two collections of Cooley’s columns, “The Best of Harold Cooley” and “The Best of the Facts of Life” were among the best-selling books on the subject of selling life insurance.


dLIS turns 40; Budlong turns reins over to Kent

January 1966 marked the 40th anniversary of Life Insurance Selling, which at the time had a circulation of 40,000 paid subscribers. Founders Clark and Wengert were still at the publishing helm while Richard Budlong, CLU, remained editor.

Budlong retired in March 1967 after 21 years as the editor of Life Insurance Selling and sister publication The Local Agent (later known as American Agent & Broker). He turned the reins over to Allan Kent, CLU. Budlong, interestingly, began his insurance and journalism career by joining The National Underwriter Company in 1919, where he stayed, editing publications including Accident and Health Review and Casualty Insuror until joining LIS and Commerce Publishing Company in 1944. Budlong passed away in 1983 at the age of 85.

In Budlong’s final issue as editor, LIS published an interview with him titled, “A Life Insurance Perspective.”d Here is one of many good quotes from Budlong included in that interview:

“The number one problem of any field underwriter is now, and always will be, to develop a good prospecting plan and then apply what he has learned about life insurance to the needs of those prospects. He should remember that part of his responsibility is to make sure that a substantial part of his clients’ savings goes into guaranteed-dollar investments, and the cash value of life insurance is the safest of all private investments.”


dNew look, new leader

After having nothing but solid-color covers with text teasing selected features since March of 1960, Life Insurance Selling debuted an “updated” cover look in June of 1973, with a new logo (with obvious similarities to today’s LIS logo) and insurance-themed drawn pictures on the covers. The logo would change again in March 1979.

Kent resigned to head the School of Life Insurance Marketing and turned LIS over to Larry Albright, CLU, in September 1976. But he continued to write “What’s Going On” through the end of 1979, when Albright began writing the column.

Interestingly, MDRT members Brian Ashe, CLU, and E. Dennis Zahrbock, who have both contributed to Life Insurance Selling within the past year, were the featured contributors in the September 1976 “Million Dollar Sales Ideas” department. Many prominent producers have contributed repeatedly to LIS throughout their careers.


s“Sources” issue debuts; founders pass away

In the 1980s, Life Insurance Selling got thicker, with some monthly issues topping 240 pages. By the end of 1983, circulation topped 39,000, “reaching the nation’s top life insurance producers,” according to Larry Albright’s January 1984 “What’s Going On” column. In that column, Albright noted that “69 percent of our agent-subscribers produce $1 million or more of annual life insurance business, and some 17 percent produce $5 million or more.” He also announced the creation of the “Sources” issue, to quench readers’ desire to have easily accessible information about the products, services and compensation available from life insurance companies. The first issue, in March 1984, weighed in at a hefty 266 pages.

Within a three-week period in the fall of 1986, Life Insurance Selling founders Donald H. Clark and Jamesd J. Wengert passed away at ages 90 and 86, respectively. Wengert had retired as chairman and CEO after 42 years with Commerce Publishing Company, while Clark remained as chairman emeritus until his death.

Joining “Million Dollar Sales Ideas” and “Points That Help You Sell” as quick sales tip idea departments, “Sales Sizzlers” debuted in the September 1989 issue, with successful agents sharing their best “sales sizzlers” relating to a different part of the sales process.


sCompany sold; Meisel and Saltzman join the fold

LIS debuted a new logo in the February 1991 issue, but the illustrated covers continued. Rusty lMcGlasson, CLU, wrote his final “People Problems in Business” column in the November 1991 issue, after 11 years as a well-known advocate for universal life in particular. In January 1993, Larry Albright became publisher of LIS and passed the editor’s torch to Charles K. Hirsch, CLU (at right), who had joined the magazine as an associate editor in 1981. When LIS parent Commerce Publishing Company was sold to a private equity firm in 1999, Hirsch stepped into a broader leadership role and became group publisher of a number of magazines and live events for Pfingsten Publishing, LLC. Gail S. Waisanen, CLU, stepped in as editor. 

While Hirsch left the company in 2008 to start his own consulting business, he came back to the fold as a contributing editor in January 2010 and has compiled the monthly “Producer Roundtable” feature since then.

sIn December 1997, Irwin “Burt” Meisel, CLU, ChFC (at left), wrote the inaugural “Is This About Insurance?” column for Life Insurance Selling. He wrote his beloved column for 12 years until health problems forced him to retire from writing for LIS in February 2009. He passed away in Augusts 2009 at the age of 77.

Shortly after Meisel started, LIS added another long-time columnist who is still writing for the magazine. Former NAHU President David Saltzman, RHU (at right), began writing “To Your Good Health” in January 1998, and will continue writing the column in the new National Underwriter Life and Health as of January 2014. 


sProducer Profiles start to dominate covers

Another longtime and current columnist started writing for Life Insurance Selling in March 2000 — The Investment Edge’s Richard Hoe, ChFC, CLU, AEP. Hoe will continue to write the column in 2014, only it will now appear in the new Retirement Advisor, a sister publication of National Underwriter and Life Insurance Selling that is being rebranded from its previous name of Senior Market Advisor.

Gordon Bess, FLMI, took over as editor of Life Insurance Selling in June of 2005. At that time, LIS wass still using a lot of stock photos on covers. But with the 80th anniversary issue in January 2006, it began to feature producers prominently on covers as “Producer Profile” subjects — something LIS has continued to do with most of its covers. Brian Anderson took over as editor in 2009, instituting the magazine’s last major redesign later that year. The magazine’s online presence grew with the introduction of portal website in 2011.