This article is one in a series of stories we are sharing throughout 2020 to celebrate the company's heritage. (Right image: Pendant honoring servicemen in the Army and Navy for service in the World War, 1917-1918. This pendant was presented to F. E. Brundage, M.D. by New York Life.)
When the United States entered World War I in April of 1917, New York Life shared the nation’s fighting spirit and rallied to help mobilize America’s troops. The company offered its deep financial and human resources to support the war effort. And the volunteerism born then—from fundraising to moral support to military service—would live on as an abiding value for decades to come.
Throughout the conflict, the company’s financial contributions were easy to quantify: New York Life bought nearly $90 million in low-yield war bonds throughout the war, amounting to more than $1.8 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. And company leaders encouraged policy owners to do the same.
The human contribution was enormous, too. A total of 192 men from the home office, 170 field employees, and 340 agents—702 men in all—left the company for military service. With so many New York Life staffers in uniform, the company earned its own chapter within the newly formed American Legion: NYLIC Post no. 503. To offset the burden of their sacrifice, the company initially paid those entering the armed forces the difference between their military and company salaries.
Evidence of New York Life’s deep moral commitment showed up in lots of everyday ways. The steward of the Home Office cafeteria insisted on keeping the names of all the “boys” serving in the military on his list. “Just a bit of sentiment,” The Nylic News explained. But the gesture really meant, “Your place is ready for you when you come back, and God grant that it may be soon...” The Nylic News also regularly featured letters “From the Boys ‘Over There’” to maintain strong ties with their New York Life family back home.
Activism was infectious, as New York Life accounted for its own civilian unit in the New York City Police Reserves as well as the American Red Cross. Several hundred female employees also joined the Nylic Auxiliary of the American Red Cross. They marched in complicated formation in New York City’s War Fund Drive parade, after practicing drills on the roof of the Home Office.
New York Life put its insurance expertise to good use, as well. Chief Actuary Arthur Hunter helped the government develop the nation’s first low-cost, widely available war-risk policy for active servicemen. It granted protection to the families of fallen soldiers and provided some peace of mind for those serving in the field.
Overseas in battle and back home across the nation, the people of New York Life engaged and mobilized to support one another as the United States fought to victory in the largest battle the world had ever known. The associations and clubs formed in the crucible of the Great War laid the foundation of New York Life’s ongoing humanitarian outreach—and a long tradition of social responsibility through times of crisis and calm.
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