From the Archives: The key to the New York Life kingdom.

New York Life | May 30, 2024

Company President George L. Harrison

Company President George L. Harrison turned the key in the Madison Avenue gate to open the Home Office for New York Life's 100th year of business, April 12, 1944.

On April 12, 1944, New York Life President George L. Harrison brandished a large bronze key to open the company’s Madison Avenue gate and launch New York Life’s 100th year of business. Assistant Secretary Lemuel C. Sandford had the honor of passing Harrison the key and entering the Home Office with him ahead of a crowd of company officers, employees, and guests. Sandford’s New York Life career began over 56 years prior on July 16, 1887. According to the May 1944 NYLIC Review, “The morning was cloudy, but it would take more than a drizzle to dampen the enthusiasm of all those who had come to celebrate the commencement of our great Company on the 100th year of its business life.”

Upon entering the building, the assembly was greeted by the New York Life choral clubs crooning “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the “NYLIC Hymn” and commemorative posters adorned the elevators and bulletin boards. Distinguished guests included officers of the company, heads of departments, and senior employees, among others.

Due to wartime travel restrictions, luncheons were held at the Home Office and branch offices throughout the U.S. and Canada. Special addresses by Harrison and Agency Vice President L. Seton Lindsay were electrically transcribed, and the recordings were disseminated and played in all departments and branch offices. Harrison stated, “Of course we may well be proud of our past. But I am sure you will all agree that our job now is to look ahead, to build for the future. We cannot rest on our laurels. We must chart our course for tomorrow in the light of a brilliant past. The second century of NYLIC is ahead of us. Our goal is to make it even greater and better than the first.” Home Office employees were gifted with a company history, reprints of the speeches, and a 100th year lapel button or pin.

Centennial celebrations

In honor of the centennial, New York Life organized the Centurion Campaign which ran from April 12, 1944 to February 1945. Agents who qualified as Centurions had to meet strict application requirements for new business. Recognizing the wartime climate, New York Life also instituted the Climax Campaign, which was open to agents returning from military service and those who did not qualify for the Centurion Campaign. The company provided special Centennial Day sales aids and published anniversary ads in more than 400 daily newspapers in 243 cities. The materials encouraged agents to write as many applications as possible on April 12, 1945, the company’s official Centennial Day. The returns from that day would be the largest volume of applications filed in a single day in company history up to that point: 12,544 applications for over $34 million in coverage.

A year later, on Centennial Day, choral singers once again serenaded their colleagues at the Home Office. Unfortunately, the announcement of President Franklin Roosevelt’s death disrupted plans for some of the live events. Roosevelt, who had recently begun his fourth term as President of the United States, had died that afternoon. The following day, April 13, 1945, New York Life held a special ceremony not to honor its own heritage but to honor President Roosevelt — who was beloved across the country and also happened to be a New York Life policy owner.


• Assistant Secretary Lemuel C. Sandford, the longest-tenured senior Home Office employee, handed New York Life President George Harrison the large bronze key and had the honor of being the first to enter the gates with him. Sandford began working for New York Life in 1887 and retired after approximately 57 years of service before the end of 1945.

• On April 12, 1944, Home Office employees received a 16-page company history, a brochure containing reprints of Harrison and Lindsay’s speeches, and a 100th Year commemorative button or pin. Lapel buttons were for men and pins were for women. The button or pin was to be worn “as a mark of our pride in being associated with a Company so rich in tradition and accomplishment.”

• The company’s Centennial Centurion Campaign, which began on April 12, 1944, was based on the traditions of the Roman army. Centurions were Roman captains in charge of 100 soldiers. New York Life Centurions included 100 leaders in terms of application volume during the company’s 100th year.


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Media contact

Kevin Maher
New York Life Insurance Company
(212) 576-7937