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Happy 166th birthday Northwestern Mutual

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//March 15, 2023//

Happy 166th birthday Northwestern Mutual

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//March 15, 2023//

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Aerial view of Milwaukee from Lake Michigan looking northwest, including the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance building, 1922. (Photo by Albert F. Toepfer. Courtesy of the Milwaukee County Historical Society)

By Steve Schuster and Ethan Duran
[email protected] and [email protected]

A Milwaukee mainstay that has shaped the city’s skyline for decades and positively impacted the community celebrated quite the milestone this week.

Happy 166th birthday, Northwestern Mutual!

Despite other Wisconsin companies leaving the state, Northwestern Mutual continues to invest in the Badger State while providing a variety of services to the community including, but not limited to, estate planning, retirement planning, college savings plans, long-term care, various business services, as well as private wealth management.

Over the last century and beyond the company has earned a reputation as a trusted industry leader.

“We yet again earned the highest available financial strength ratings awarded to any U.S. life insurer with a stable outlook by all of the four major rating agencies — and we are also one of the financially strongest companies in America in any industry,” Northwestern Mutual’s website proudly states.

The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance building, 1938. (Courtesy of the Milwaukee County Historical Society)

According to Fitch Ratings, the company earned the best possible AAA rating for Long Term Financial Strength.

Northwestern Mutual invested $500 million in southeastern Wisconsin for its Tower & Commons project nearly a decade ago and announced another project in February — renovation of the North Office building on East Mason Street.

The company has always maintained a considerable presence in Milwaukee’s downtown. Northwestern Mutual’s downtown office has been there since 1914.

“The company has called Milwaukee home for 164 years, and the city continues to serve as our cultural and operational hub,” said Senior Director, Strategic Communications & Corporate Reputation Julia Fennelly in a statement.

The company is proud to offer a “best-in-class campus.”

“We set our employee and field teams up for success to best serve clients and policyowners, and we are pleased to be able to continue our investment in our downtown Milwaukee campus through the North Office Building project,” Fennelly said.

The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance building under construction. Undated, circa 1914. (Courtesy of the Milwaukee County Historical Society)

Northwestern Mutual offers life, disability income and long-term care insurance, annuities and brokerage and advisory services to more than five million people, a spokesperson for the company said. The company manages total assets worth $558 billion across the company’s institutional portfolio as well as retail investment client portfolios, $35 billion in revenues and $2.2 trillion worth of life insurance protection in force. In the 2022 FORTUNE 500, Northwestern Mutual ranked 97.

The company was incorporated on March 2, 1857, in Janesville under the name Mutual Life Insurance Company of the State of Wisconsin, a spokesperson for the company said. General John C. Johnston, born in Catskill, New York, is considered the founder. He travelled to New York City in 1847 to become an agent for the insurance company Mutual of New York. Johnston left the East Coast and settled in Janesville in 1854 around the age of 70. He attempted to start a farm and failed, so then he started a new insurance company, the spokesperson said.

The state Legislature approved the incorporation bill, and the company was formally chartered. Mutual Life Insurance Co. moved to Milwaukee in 1859 and changed its name to the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. in 1864, the spokesperson said, noting the company has had its present site downtown since 1914.

Northwestern Mutual recently announced plans to use $500 million to redevelop its North Office building, which was completed in the early 90s. In a Milwaukee Common Council meeting on Tuesday, alders expressed wide support to provide a $30 million developer financed grant from the company to the district the office building sits. The company announced plans to build the 32-story Tower and Commons in 2015 with Houston-based developer Hines. Construction for that project wrapped up in 2017.


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