Sentry Celebrates 100 Years of Workers’ Compensation

August 15, 2014 marks Sentry’s 100-year anniversary of writing workers’ compensation insurance—a critical line of insurance designed to provide wage loss and medical benefits to employees injured on the job. Wisconsin was the first state to develop workers’ compensation insurance in 1911. Today, workers’ compensation insurance is offered nationwide and represents a market of more than $50 billion in annual direct written premium.

On August 15, 1914, Sentry—then known as Wisconsin Hardware Limited Mutual Liability Company—bound coverage on its first workers’ compensation policy. Since that day, we have had tremendous success and growth in the market and today have more than 10,000 workers’ compensation insurance policies in force.

In 1961, Carl Jacobs, former President of Sentry, was asked to speak at a symposium held to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of workers’ compensation insurance. A transcript of that speech provides a history of Sentry’s entry into the market along with some other interesting facts:

  • In order to receive a license to write workers’ compensation insurance, Sentry had to create a new underwriting company and obtain 400 applications—i.e., potential customers. There were only five sales people at that time. Their task was to represent a new and unknown company and sell a coverage that was not well known and was not legally required at the time.
  • There were not enough hardware stores to call upon to generate the 400 applications required, so Sentry branched out, pursuing “store risks of any nature, in fact, most anything except factories and mills,” according to an excerpt from an August 1914 edition of the Stevens Point Journal.
  • On August 13, 1914, the 400 applications were filed and $18,000 was deposited as funds to operate and support the new underwriting company.
  • On August 15, 1914, the license to write workers’ compensation insurance was granted and coverage was bound on the first 400 policies. There were three employees at that time to handle the writing, renewing and auditing of the policies and handle the claims.
  • The first claim occurred on August 22, 1914; a cut hand from an employee of a hardware store in Sheboygan, Wisconsin with wages of $7.00 per week. He saw the doctor and received several stitches at a cost of $4.50.
  • The first claim was handled by P.J. Jacobs, who at that time was secretary of the new insurance company. When the doctor bill was paid, Jacobs provided a typed letter to the doctor. He apparently knew the doctor personally, as he referred to meeting with him and his wife a few weeks prior while in Sheboygan and discussing the launch of the new company at that time. He also asked the doctor to, “remember me to your MUCH better half.”
  • The second claim occurred a few months later and involved a fatality when an employee fell off a roof in Ashland, Wisconsin. That claim nearly bankrupted the new company. The death benefit was $3,600, but there was only $2,811 in surplus. An annuity was purchased to settle the claim at a cost of $2,700, leaving just over $100 in surplus.

Today, Sentry enjoys tremendous success in the workers’ compensation insurance arena:

  • More than 10,000 in-force workers’ compensation insurance policies representing more than $392 million in direct written premium
  • More than 50,000 workers’ compensation claims managed annually involving payments of more than $500 million
  • More than 250 people work within Sentry’s workers’ compensation claims operation
  • Sentry provides workers’ compensation insurance and manages claims for many well-known companies such as adidas, Ameriprise Financial, Chanel, Chobani, Colombia Sportswear, Discovery Channel, Dun & Bradstreet, Gibson Guitar, Guess? Inc., Kimberly Clark, Monster Energy Drinks, SiriusXM Radio, Skechers, Trek Bicycle and U.S. Cellular

Sentry continues to enjoy success due to the efforts and commitment of our associates. We have grown from a startup company providing commercial insurance to a small segment of businesses into a multibillion dollar company providing insurance and industry-leading services nationwide. We have come quite a long way since entering into the workers’ compensation insurance market back in 1914 and look forward to the future and what the next 100 years will hold.

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