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The Life Insurance Business in 1868

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The world of 1868, when the Metropolitan Life  Insurance  Company was born, was very different from the world we know today. There were no telephones in those days and no electric lights. The country had not yet been spanned by a transcontinental railroad. Records were kept in handwritten ledgers, and business letters were penned in longhand. The entire population of the United States was only about 37,000,000. The flag then carried 37 stars.

Canada at that time contained only 3,500,000 people. She had only one year earlier (1867) achieved Dominion status in the British Empire. The two countries, although their frontiers were expanding, were still largely rural. At the census of 1870, the American population living on farms and in country villages numbered about 30,000,000. Persons engaged in agriculture, forestry, and animal husbandry constituted half the total working population.

The War of the States, to be sure, was over, but the struggle had left in its wake a variety of national problems– not only political but also economic and social. The Nation was still feeling most of these with full force. For instance, greenbacks were still in circulation, and specie payment was not to be resumed until 11 years later. With the emancipation of the slaves, the labor problem reached a new phase. The Government of a now united Nation was anxious to offer its citizens fields for expansion, and through the Homestead Acts and subsequent land grants made thousands of farm acres available to pioneers.

To others more enterprising, new territories offered opportunity to exploit the resources of great plains and mountains. The primary need of the country was adequate transportation facilities, which were considered a key to further economic progress. However, all signs pointed to a great expansion ahead. The actual issues of the war itself had, for the most part, been settled. The country could now go forward to the fruitful destiny which its rich natural resources and its vigorous people promised.

Industry, commerce, and finance felt the new stimulus to surge forward. The business depression which immediately followed the close of the war proved short and was succeeded by a distinct upturn. By 1868 there was in progress a business revival which was to last five years. The Metropolitan was thus launched on a rising economic tide. Immigrants in large numbers were encouraged to come to add the work of their hands to the building of the country.

They made up a new working population, which took root, for the most part, in the cities. Crossroads were becoming towns almost overnight. Towns were swiftly growing into cities. A deeper sense of permanence colored the thoughts of the American people, who began to think in terms of a future, a home, family security. The United States was rapidly coming of age.

The class of wage earners was growing rapidly, a circumstance which, as we shall see, proved to be a determining factor in the development of the Metropolitan. As inventions multiplied and factories grew, women and children were employed in greater numbers. The acceleration of industry and of urban life accentuated the economic insecurity which many felt in their new environment.

City dwellers became conscious of the hazards of long working days, child labor, and industrial accidents. Mines and railroads and machines were being developed with consequent risk to human life. Health conditions in our cities were far from good. To provide a measure of security for this increasing urban population, life  insurance  and private health  insurance  companies came into being.

The war decade of the 1860s gave opportunity for the great expansion of the life  insurance  and individual health  insurance  business. As a result, more than 100 companies were functioning by 1868. The New England Mutual and The Mutual Life  Insurance  Company of New York had already been in operation for 25 years.

In fact, when the Metropolitan appeared on the scene, there were already in existence organizations with such familiar names as the New York Life, the Equitable Life of New York, the Mutual Benefit of New Jersey, the John Hancock, the Aetna, and the Connecticut Mutual. By present standards none of these companies was large, yet in their day they were important economic enterprises. At the end of 1868 the largest of these, The Mutual Life of New York, had gross assets of more than $30,000,000 and  insurance  in force amounting to nearly $200,000,000.

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