While destined to become one of the top insurance companies in the nation, the National Life and Accident Insurance Company barely survived its first winter. C. A. Craig bought it for $17,250 on the Davidson County Courthouse steps on December 27, 1901. Previously administered by C. Runcie Clements, the company, then called National Sick and Accident Company, was sold to settle an estate.
By January 1, 1902, the company had only $23,000 in assets and about half of that was in real estate. The company’s cash had dwindled to $3,200. On January 7, 1902, Craig was elected president of the company at a meeting of shareholders. W. R. Wills became secretary and treasurer and C. R. Clements became assistant treasurer. All three men owned shares, and the name was changed to National Life and Accident Insurance Company.
During early days of its operation the only policies sold by the company were health and accident premiums usually for industrial workers, a large percentage of whom were African Americans. Five cents per week bought the policyholders $1.25 per week in case of illness, $2.00 per week in case of disability, and $12.50 in accidental death benefits.
Craig, Wills, and Clements were men of vision and extended their services and staff. In 1920 National Life opened its first life insurance department, with Edwin W. Craig as manager and Eldon B. Stevenson Jr. as assistant manager. Other key executives would include Jesse E. Wills, G. D. Brooks, William C. Weaver, and Walter S. Bearden. By 1924 the company had moved into a handsome stone building on the northwest corner of Seventh and Union. It expanded its market by offering a wide range of insurance policies including whole life, endowment, and term policies.
Craig’s son Edwin Wilson Craig, subsequent president of the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, is frequently credited with the idea for a company radio broadcasting station. WSM was launched in 1925, and it won international fame through its program of country music, the Grand Ole Opry. WSM helped to spread Nashville’s name through its broadcasts, and out of the Grand Ole Opry grew Nashville’s popular Opryland.
In 1968 N.L.T. Corporation was created as a holding company with National Life the principal subsidiary. From its Texas headquarters, American General Corporation, which already had acquired Nashville-based Life and Casualty Insurance Company, gained control of N.L.T. in 1982. The melting down of two giant Nashville-born insurance companies into a conglomerate holding company signaled the end of an era in Nashville’s economic history.
[Notice to National Life policy holders: The Tennessee Historical Society has no connection to this company and cannot provide information on your policy. For claims click on this link: American General Life Assurance.]
John Egerton, The Faces of Two Centuries 1780-1980 (1979)