Turns out it’s hard to escape insurance, even on spring break.
A visit to Singer Island, Florida led to an interesting discovery.
We were taking a walking tour in John D. MacArthur Beach State Park. This 438-acre park is the only state park in Palm Beach County and located between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth Lagoon.
Think nature trails, hammocks (the forested kind), tropical trees with names like strangler fig, beach, sand dunes, rare turtles, and birds, lots of birds: osprey, cormorants, gulls and pelicans.
Right outside the nature center is a bust of the previous property owner, John D. MacArthur. Our tour guide happened to mention that Mr. MacArthur made his fortune in the insurance business.
Apparently, in 1935 Mr. MacArthur acquired the Bankers Life and Casualty Company of Chicago for $2,500 ($44,000 in today’s dollars).
As our tour guide explained, during the Great Depression people didn’t have the money to buy insurance. So Mr. MacArthur came up with a plan to make it affordable. He would charge them $1 (that’s $17.65 in today’s dollars) for a life insurance policy.
There was just one caveat: for the policy to pay out, a person had to die of unnatural causes.
Needless to say, Mr. MacArthur was very successful. Five years later, Bankers had more than $1 million in assets and by 1977 more than $1 billion.
At the time of his death in 1978, Mr. MacArthur’s insurance companies had more than 3 million policyholders, with $5.5 billion of insurance in force and a sales staff of more than 5,000 agents and brokers.
In addition to insurance, Mr. MacArthur had an interest in real estate and development and his holdings included 100,000 acres of land in Florida, mostly in the Palm Beach and Sarasota areas.
Mr. MacArthur later donated a section of his Palm Beach property for use as a public park after a university study convinced him it was a biological treasure.
The MacArthur Foundation (established in 1970 so that his money would go to good use after he was gone) contributed additional funds to help develop the park and nature center. The John D. MacArthur Beach State Park opened to the public in 1989.
Another great story of philanthropy in insurance.