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The saga of “Selling” — a look at the first 25 years of Life Insurance Selling

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Editor’s note: Life Insurance Selling magazine is merging with National Underwriter Life & Health as of January 2014. In honor of LIS’ illustrious 87-year history, here is an interesting look back at the magazine’s first 25 years, as excerpted from the Jan. 1951 issue of Life Insurance Selling.

Back in the early 1920s a couple of young men working for Clifford DePuy’s banking and insurance magazines in Des Moines, Iowa, used to spend many evening hours talking about the life insurance business. They dreamed of a “different kind of insurance magazine” for the rapidly growing insurance business – a magazine that would carry only ideas on life insurance selling. (Some visionary optimists were saying there would someday be a hundred billion dollars of life insurance in force in the U.S.A. – and at the rate old companies were growing and new ones springing up, who could tell? Such dreams might not be so cockeyed after all, because the kick in the pants the companies got from the Armstrong Investigation had long since turned into a shot in the arm. Also, the once-feared “Government competition” from War Risk insurance on World War doughboys had only made some of them get more sold on life insurance. People didn’t even hear religious opposition to life insurance expressed very often any more.)

Who could tell? Maybe the dreamers were right!

But, like many young men with ideas, the plans of these young men changed. One of them-Don Clark – four years out of Grinnell College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, after a stint on daily newspapers-was picked in 1923 to go to St. Louis to manage Mid-Continent Banker, which Mr. DePuy and a partner owned there. With the job came an opportunity for Don Clark to buy an interest in the publication in St. Louis.

Don Clark moves to St. Louis

Thus, Don Clark, as editor, manager, and part owner of Mid- Continent Banker in St. Louis found himself removed from the life insurance publishing business — but not from the idea of a life insurance magazine such as he had visualized in Des Moines.

As the St. Louis publishing venture grew, so did his conviction that there was a real opportunity and need for a specialized sales-idea magazine for the life insurance field.

After Jim Wengert, who was working for the DePuy Publications in Des Moines, joined Don Clark in St. Louis as a junior partner, the idea of the new magazine really got to boiling.

But, after all, the daydreams of a new magazine had germinated in Des Moines while they were working there.

One of the young men – Gerald A. Snider – was still working for Mr. DePuy. The young men had even taken their ideas to Mr. DePuy for his counsel. As employees, they had expected his capital to go into the new enterprise.

Next page: LIS is born, and geared to the times

Bought the idea

Who owned the rights to an unborn publication? Rather than look for an answer in a law book, Don Clark decided to find out by presenting the proposition to his former “chief” Mr. DePuy, and his former associate Mr. Snider. On a hot afternoon in St. Louis, Don Clark and Jim Wengert got their answer. They bought the rights to the idea, the name Life Insurance Selling (which had been settled on in Des Moines, and set up a new corporation, Life Insurance Publishing Company.

Thus did Donald H. Clark, in 1925, become manager and majority stockholder of Life Insurance Publishing Company, with James J. Wengert as owner of most of the remaining shares.

Gave away first issue

When, in January, 1926, the baby Life Insurance Selling made its appearance, it was mailed to a list of some 3,000 life insurance agents with little fanfare but with careful selection. The magazine – pocket size – was for “aggressive salesmen,” better-class agents who would pay out money to get tested sales ideas. Luckily for the new venture, there were many such agents, and the convenient little magazine struck a responsive note. Agents dug down into their pants pockets for a dollar so they could carry Life Insurance Selling in their coat pockets (“to read while you wait to see a prospect” the promotional literature said).

Judged by today’s standards of life insurance salesmanship and its interpretation in the trade press, the early issues of Life Insurance Selling were somewhat crude.

Geared to the times

But in 1926 life insurance salesmanship – as we know it now – was comparatively in its infancy. Many of the articles told how to get into the prospect’s office, how to behave, when to get out. Agents wanted short, pat staternents to cinch the sale. They even – just a quarter of a century ago – wanted to know how to answer the occasional objection to life insurance!

The tough job for agents was to figure out what to say to the fellow who already “had life insurance.” A magazine that helped an agent over these hurdles really was worth the dough!

Readers wrote in to tell the magazine they’d sold an extra thousand-dollar policy to a fellow who already had life insurance. And the magazine naturally rnailed copies of such letters to thousands of other agents urging them to take advantage of the money-making ideas contained in Life Insurance Selling!

Sales horizons were broadening. Life insurance people were seeing bigger opportunities for their product. And with it all the circulation of Life Insurance Selling mounted. The “free list” was quickly replaced with paid subscribers – more paid subscribers than Volume 1, Number 1′s total. It was the booming 20′s. As the decade whirled on, the boom got bigger, dizzier; companies hired agents faster, gave them rate books, and away they went to get some of the “easy sales.” It was a great day for a new life insurance magazine that helped agents know more and sell more.

Next page: Surviving the Depression, courting CLUs


In less than four years, the new magazine boasted of 8,000 paid subscribers. With such a record of accomplishment the advertising pages began to fill up, while the editorial pages kept pace with an ever-changing sales picture. Life insurance salesmanship was growing up.

Then came the crash! The zooming 20s coasted into the slow-moving 30s. People weren’t very cheerful. Their horizons closed in. From tighter belts to lost shirts the business world evolved

and as business stagnation set in, a new idea was born in life insurance. Life insurance was property, and furthermore, was property that didn’t depreciate in value. People were finding out that they could live too long as well as die too soon. Agents who had been selling protection started selling life insurance as an investment. Some of them even called themselves “life insurance and annuity salesmen.”

But regardless of how good the product was, depression was everywhere. It discouraged even hard-to-discourage life insurance salesmen.

The business needed even better salesmanship. The pages of Life Insurance Selling tried hard to give agents that. Companies developed better training plans for agents, expanded training departments. The business needed enthusiasm. Where to find authors of articles that reflected real enthusiasm! Where to find agents whose records showed that they refused to be downed by the forces of the day. The basic editorial policy of Life Insurance Selling – tested sales ideas – remained unchanged, but the editors dug hard to broaden the scope and change the philosophy of life insurance salesmen.

From quick sales tips, Life Insurance Selling graduated to broader, more comprehensive articles discussing sales philosophies as well as practices of nationally known life insurance salesmen.

Boost for CLU

As the depression deepened, the business required better informed life underwriters. Recognizing that the Chartered Life Underwriter movement was a step in the right direction, if not the solution to our troubles, Life Insurance Selling inaugurated an annual “C.L.U. Issue” in 1935 and carried on that tradition every year until the C.L.U. movement had reached such proportions that a C.L.U. designation following an author’s name was no longer a novelty. The C.L.U. Issue restricted authors to those with the C.L.U. designation and carried lengthy discussions of the American College and the C.L.U. movement by Dr. Solomon Huebner, Dean David McCahan, and others identified with the early activities of the American College of Life Underwriters.

Million Dollar Round Table

With better education and a better conception of life insurance and its functions, the Million Dollar Round Table of the National Association of Life Underwriters began to take on new proportions. From a handful of “supersalesmen” having breakfast together during the NALU convention in the early 30′s, the MDRT increased in size each year although its membership still consisted largely of large city underwriters. Then a young fellow named Grant Taggart from out in Cowley, Wyoming, made it. He had to drive thousands of miles “seeing farther and seeing less” to do it than most anybody you could imagine. Life Insurance Selling decided that story would inspire a lot of other fellows. Grant obliged. One time, he wrote with his manuscript, “I’m taking this 50 miles to a place where it will catch a stage to Cheyenne and then go by air to St. Louis, and it should reach you by your deadline.” It did. And thousands of readers decided “if Grant Taggart can write a million of business in sparsely settled Wyoming, why can’t I do it here?”

Many tried. Some succeeded. And there, incidentally, is the basic strength of Life Insurance Selling’s editorial policy. Whereas a company may tell a life underwriter what to do, give him a prepared sales talk of the best quality, insist that he work on the company’s pattern – Life Insurance Selling doesn’t tell anybody what to do. It just enables him to find out what other successful men are doing, and, it’s when a man reads the successful sales methods of another, and says, “I’ll use those ideas myself and adapt them to my system,” that he really produces business.

Next page: LIS grows up 

LIS grows up

The educational movement become so important Life Insurance Selling hired a CLU, Dick Budlong, with years of life insurance and editorial experience behind him to become managing editor in 1944.

In 1945 the magazine was outgrowing its pocket size; it was cramped. Short little sales ideas still had their place-in such ever popular features as “Points That Help You Sell” -but life underwriters had long since quit carrying magazines in their pockets to try to get a good idea while waiting to see that tough prospect.

Life underwriters were career men. There were only half as many of them as once there had been in the U.S.A. but they were selling more life insurance. More than ever they were reading Life Insurance Selling, too. But they carried well organized sales portfolios. And Life Insurance Selling needed to be full size to encompass the expanded editorial scope it envisioned, to carry the larger volume of advertising attracted by more and better readers, many of whom were writing brokerage and surplus lines. Life underwriters needed to know more about new policies, what companies wrote what. Also, the “debit” men, long considered a little apart, were getting to be “combination men,” and they wanted more of what Life Insurance Selling offered. So, in 1946, Life Insurance Selling became the full size rnagazine it is today with greatly broadened editorial scope.

It goes into 1951 on its 25th anniversary with over 14,000 paid subscribers. What will it be like in five, 10 or 15 years? We haven’t the slightest idea – except that it will not only be abreast of the day-to-day changes in life insurance salesmanship but helping to bring about many of those changes. A sales idea magazine has to be that way. For a sales idea magazine’s main job is to sell life insurance through helping readers sell more and sell it better.