By HOWARD WIEDENHOEFT
By the 1950s, Ixonia Mutual Insurance Company and Watertown Mutual Insurance Company had survived World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. Both companies steadfastly persevered under the long-term leadership of their secretaries. John Degner served Ixonia Mutual from 1944-1968. Arthur Linnes served Watertown Mutual from 1943-1971. Both mutuals, however, were slow to change and comfortable with writing just fire and lightning coverages, a practice shared by their mutual counterparts throughout the state. That they eventually added wind and supplemental coverages was only in response to their policyholders’ demands.
Then came the 1960s and future of town mutuals became seriously threatened.
The Birth of Package Insurance Policies
The idea of packaging fire, windstorm, hail, and other supplemental coverage into a single insurance policy had been around for quite some time, but by the 1960s marketing and consumer needs brought these policies into the forefront. Large insurance companies offered them to both home and farm owners and they topped them off with personal liability protection and medical payments to others. They became a “must-have” for the mid-century property owner.
The problem with this development for small companies like Ixonia Mutual and Watertown Mutual was in a Wisconsin law that prohibited town mutuals from selling liability insurance. Corporate insurance companies and independent agents favored this law obviously, but according to a 1963 survey conducted by Wisconsin Association of Town Mutual Insurance Companies (WATMIC), a majority of Wisconsin town mutuals realized that legislation to write liability (supplemental coverage) was necessary for their companies to survive.
On December 15, 1967, after nearly seven years of WATMIC’s continued petition, Assembly Bill 296 was passed allowing town mutuals to write packaged insurance policies, including liability. In 1968 Watertown Mutual agreed to write both homeowner and farmowner package policies. In 1969 Ixonia Mutual agreed to write farmowners package policies and homeowner package policies two years later. Both companies reinsured their liability coverages with Thresherman’s Mutual Insurance Company of Fond du Lac which is now Society Insurance.
In my opinion, Forward Mutual would not be in existence today without the passage of Assembly Bill 296. This bill’s passage brought the town mutual industry into the 20th century. It also led to more changes which we’ll address in future installments.