Solomon Huebner and the Development of Life Insurance Sales Professionalism, 1905-1927
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In 1927 the National Association of Life Underwriters collaborated with Professor Solomon Huebner of the University of Pennsylvania to found the American College of Life Underwriters, an institution devoted to establishing and maintaining professional standards for the nation’s life insurance salesmen. Their work sheds light on the new politics of expertise and associations that emerged in the 1920s. While many historians have portrayed the period’s experts as purveyors of new, technical knowledge and apolitical agents of an inevitable modernity, Huebner in fact brought little real knowledge of insurance to his work. Instead, he introduced the industry’s prevailing ideology of public service into his classroom, and it informed his professionalization project as well. The professor worked as a campaigner for professionalism, attempting to persuade life insurance salesmen, industry executives, and the American public to accept the notion that salesmen could become professionals. Ultimately, Huebner’s career shows how a Progressive expert worked directly with a trade association representing a disorganized industry. But instead of merely seeking to build new capacity for economic planning and stabilization, Huebner and the association boldly positioned their industry as a voluntary and private means of providing Americans with basic social welfare benefits and paved the way for the growth of the modern financial services industry.