COLUMBUS — The Ohio Farm Bureau and Nationwide Insurance celebrated 100 years of partnership, a legacy formed through farmers joining together.
Steve Hausfeld, manager, Nationwide Library and History & Archives Center, presented “Strong Roots: How the Ohio Farm Bureau Cultivated the Seed to become Nationwide” at Ohio Farm Bureau’s 100th annual meeting, Dec. 6.
“People have within their own hands the tools to fashion their own destiny,” said Hausfeld, quoting the early Farm Bureau leader and the longest serving president in Nationwide’s history, Murray D. Lincoln.
“The founding of the Ohio Farm Bureau and of Nationwide are grounded into the roots of the subject of Murray’s statement,” said Hausfeld.
The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation was established in 1919 at The Ohio State University. Through the Farm Bureau, Nationwide was eventually established.
Hausfeld said that in many ways, the foundation and partnership between the Ohio Farm Bureau and Nationwide is an origin story. “All origin stories begin with the people,” he said. “For the first 22 years of what became Nationwide, we were part of a larger organization, an organization that at its roots informed and engaged members,” said Hausfeld, explaining that both the insurance company and Farm Bureau benefited from the partnership.
Nationwide was originally known as Farm Bureau Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. In 1893 George Cooley, known as Uncle George and referred to as the “Father of Ohio Farm Bureau,” helped establish the Cuyahoga County Grape Growers Cooperative. Cooley was a grape grower, a teacher, a township trustee, an architect and a “renaissance man,” said Hausfeld. “But most importantly, he was an organizer.”
In 1905 Cooley helped build roads in 14 states as a federal highway engineer. In 1905 he became an early leader in the establishment of the Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB) Federation.
Hausfeld also highlighted two others significant to OFB, including Murray D. Lincoln and Ezra Anstaett, who was the first employee and general agent for Farm Bureau Mutual Automobile Insurance Company in 1926.
“They took an idea 100 years ago and said, ‘Hey let’s join together and do what we can’t do individually,’” said Frank Burkett III, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation president. “And I look forward to what county farm bureaus, Ohio Farm Bureau and American Farm Bureau do in the next 100 years.” This will be Burkett’s third full term as president. He was reelected Dec. 7 at the annual meeting.
“From 1913 until near the end of [World War I] crop prices just exploded, something in the neighborhood of 121 percent over the 1913 prices,” said Hausfeld. However, prices crashed after the war. Between 1919 and 1920 farmers’ income dropped 60 percent across the United States, according to Hausfelf.
“There was a need for farmers to come together because [the farmers] weren’t getting support from those living outside of their world,” said Hausfeld. “People in urban areas were at the cusp of the Roaring Twenties.”
By 1918 all but one of the 88 counties of Ohio had established Farm Bureau.
“Murray and Uncle George recognized that there was a potential threat even greater than the price of corn, and that was what the wreckage of an auto accident could do to a farmer, both physically and financially,” said Hausfeld. “They knew how much potential the Farm Bureau had to influence this.” By 1925, only 15 percent of farmers had automobile insurance, as it was expensive. The Ohio Farm Bureau established the Farm Bureau Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, offering automobile insurance in April 1926.
In 1931 the organization began to offer insurance to people who lived in urban areas as well because farm population began to decrease. But they had to sign up for a Farm Bureau membership first.
“Less than one percent of U.S. companies actually make it to celebrate their centennial,” said Burkett, and he said Ohio Farm Bureau owes its centennial all to its members. “To be president when Ohio Farm Bureau is celebrating their centennial—it’s very humbling, to stand here as the twenty-fourth president.”
The Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company continued to expand throughout World War II and by 1948 the organization had 1.2 million policy holders and around $64 million in assets.
However, in 1948 the two organizations separated. “We didn’t do so because we wanted to,” said Hausfeld. But Highway Insurance examiners and others conducted an examiner’s report, which showed potential for questionable activities with the management structures, relationships and agreements between the two organizations. However, the examiner’s report identified that there was never any actual questionable activity.
Lincoln put together a thirty-plus page draft arguing against each point in the examiner’s report. But ultimately, the two companies separated. Lincoln decided to continue with the insurance company.
“[Lincoln] felt that the opportunity for insurance could better connect with his personal philosophy around people coming together on a much grander scale,” a quote by Lincoln. “Insurance…the best bet for getting all kinds of people together to fulfill their needs.”
In 1952 the insurance company became the first full service insurance and financial services company when it acquired Mutual Income Foundation, a small mutual fund company. In 1955, the company officially changed its name to Nationwide and introduced the “N” and eagle logo.
“We have always focused on people, on members, on associates, on partners,” said Hausfeld. “And our connection to [Ohio Farm Bureau] is as strong today as it was in 1926 and I’m confident that when our [descendants] meet for the 200th anniversary of the Farm Bureau that our connection will be equally as strong.”