The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair Columbian Exposition was designed as a testament to American greatness, a showcase for the greatest advances of the time and a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.
New York Life’s award-winning exhibit during the fair embodied this spirit, highlighting how life insurance helps protect families from life’s uncertainties and the company’s continued innovations for policy owners. At the entrance to our exhibit stood a 10-foot-tall pyramid that represented the amount of gold it would have taken to equal New York Life’s assets at the time ($137.5 million). The pyramid was a topped with a gold-leaf globe whose size—four feet in diameter—represented the company’s surplus of $16.3 million. The globe also rotated on a 24-hour schedule mimicking Earth’s rotation and had a meridian that showed the time in Chicago.
Once visitors entered the exhibit, the display included the company’s first policy in force, the first non-forfeiture policy, and the latest policy introduced in 1892 that didn’t have restrictions on the policy owner’s job, residence, travel, or manner of death. The fair’s Committee of Awards recognized the exhibit with a medal and a diploma.
“We are here representing one of the great corporations of the world, and we have an exhibition here which…is unsurpassed by anything in ancient or modern history,” said company comptroller Hugh Smith Thompson at the time.
New York Life also used it as a way to reward employees, inviting more than 100 winners of three companywide sales contests and other merit-based awards to attend a “Columbian Convention” on life insurance in July. The convention, which ran nearly a week and covered a range of topics, also treated employees, executives, and their families to the marvels of the fair.
The 1893 World’s Fair, considered one of the most important cultural events in U.S. history, attracted nearly 26 million people in the six months it was open—America’s population at the time was 63 million. The fair highlighted advances, companies, and other parts of American society shaping the future.
New York Life was included as a company that demonstrated progress and was important to the country in 1893—just as we are today.
Photo on right: the New York Life exhibit at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (Image from the 1895 history of the company by James Hudnut)
Photo on top: Electrical building at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, where many Americans had their first sight of electric light.
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