In the spring and summer of 1946 in New York City, many insurance professionals felt that the insurance industry, representing many billions in capital and income, was often subject to bad publicity, and was not the powerful voice in matters related to insurance or otherwise that it should have been. About this same time, several informal discussions were held by the four individuals responsible for the idea of the John Street Club:
Rutledge Bermingham, Jr. - Home Insurance Company
Hawley T. Chester, Jr. - Chubb and Son
Solon C. Kelley, III - Associated Aviation Underwriters
H.H. Salmon, III - Marine Office of America
It was their belief that one reason for the lack of good communications in the industry was that the executives of the leading underwriters and brokerage firms were not generally good friends – in fact, often were not known to each other at all. They further believed that if there were some way potential executives of these firms could get acquainted while still relatively young, and could become friends by association and contact, some very desirable results could be obtained which would benefit the industry and those it serves.
These thoughts were broached with other young professionals in insurance, along with the idea of forming a club which would meet at lunch on a monthly basis, except July and August, and where these thoughts could be promoted. The response was immediate and approval in principle spontaneous. The Club (then unnamed) was formed shortly thereafter, and in the late fall of 1946 the first informal meeting, attended by about 25, was held at the Coq D’Or restaurant on Maiden Lane.
Monthly meetings were held from September through June on the Friday following the first Monday of each month. With the closing of Miller’s in 1964, the monthly luncheons were moved to Whyte’s Restaurant, followed by The Coachman in 1972. From 1975 through 1995, Fraunces Tavern served as the monthly meeting place for our downtown luncheons. From 1995, India House and Harry’s of Hanover Square provided a venue. Twice yearly, luncheon meetings were held uptown at Gallagher’s. With increasing frequency, these luncheons have been honored with informal talks by leaders of the Insurance world. 1998 was the first year in which every luncheon meeting had a scheduled speaker.
In addition to these meetings, the Club sponsors two other annual functions. The summer outing is open to all members and includes a day of golf followed by refreshments and awarding of prizes. The Governors’ Dinner, usually held on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, is a black tie affair which brings together current and former Governors, including many of the Life Members.
From time to time, similar clubs were formed by relocated John Street Club members following the precepts and principles of the John Street Club: in Philadelphia the Walnut Street Club, and in St. Louis, the Pine Street Club. None have flourished like The John Street Club. Indeed, even similar New York City clubs have not enjoyed the same success. Consider the Young Man’s Board of Trade, which competed with The John Street Club from 1960 until the date it folded, in 1965. The John Street Club absorbed the displaced YMBT members.
From its modest beginnings The John Street Club, gradually grew in number and stature. By the mid-1970s nearly every important New York P&C insurance company and brokerage firm was represented in the membership. Although the general tenor of the Club remained informal, it had been formalized to the extent that officers and a board of governors were elected annually, and dues were levied.
The quality of its members has always been an important consideration to The John Street Club. Perhaps success in this area has had much to do with the success of the Club overall. A very large proportion of the membership has been associated with the Club for over 25 years. Some have been members for over 50 years. There are many examples of two generations of the same family being members, often at the same time. At least one family (Newhouse) has had two generations of Life Members simultaneously active in the club. Three families even gave the club two Presidents (the Loughlins, the McKeons and the Tomensons). No family has yet reported three generations of John Street Club members, but it is only a matter of time.
With this kind of pedigree and tenure at the Club’s disposal, it is hardly surprising that so many company Owners, Presidents, CEOs, Chairmen, and other senior officers are currently active members of The John Street Club. Slightly over half of the membership is drawn from the insurance brokerage community, the rest from insurance carriers, reinsurers and other insurance industry professionals.
From the beginning, there has been almost unanimous feeling among the members that there should be no formal charitable aim of the Club. The Club is not a registered charity. However, the purpose of the Club has been focused for many years on the educational value of the luncheon presentations. In addition to this educational value, the Club has made a conscious effort to support insurance education. This is done by making financial contributions, to the degree general funds will permit, to a responsible educational facility grooming future leaders of the insurance industry. The contribution is voted by the Board of Governors each year at the end of the Club’s fiscal year. This ensures that The John Street Club does not generate or accumulate any profit from its activities. A special note of membership generosity came from Thomas A. Greene, who made a $5,000 contribution to the College of Insurance, in honor of his long and continuing association with The John Street Club.
It is a certainty that personal association with other members over the years must form friendships. Such friendships will inevitably cross the normal boundaries of competing firms, and will subsequently result in improved relationships and better understanding in the industry.
The Tommy Chester Award for Excellence in Service is the club's highest award; providing special recognition to a Governor or Member whose efforts went above and beyond what was expected, to be awarded at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) or other determined meeting.
Ian E. McMullan
William K. Brown, Jr.
Walter S. Tomenson, Jr.