Hugo Wesendonck


Hugo Wesendonck was born into a merchant family in the Prussian Rhineland. He worked as a lawyer before his involvement in the ill-fated Frankfurt Parliament, the first attempt to build a democratic government for a unified Germany, forced him to seek asylum and take up commercial activities in the United States. His entrepreneurial ambitions there were informed by the needs of German immigrants and in 1860 he helped to found the Germania Life Insurance Company in New York City, a corporation still operating under the name Guardian Life Insurance in the present. While the company picked up a timely trend in the financial sector, Wesendonck spotted in the life insurance business a way to manifest an ethnicity-based idea of security that served the sovereignty of a transnational community of German people.


Hugo Wesendonck (born April 24, 1817 in Elberfeld, Prussian Rhineland; died December 19, 1900 in New York, NY) was born into a merchant family in the Prussian Rhineland. He worked as a lawyer before his involvement in the ill-fated Frankfurt Parliament, the first attempt to build a democratic government for a unified Germany, forced him to seek asylum and take up commercial activities in the United States. His entrepreneurial ambitions there were informed by the needs of German immigrants, in general, and his own experience of being exiled as a Forty-Eighter, a prosecuted agitator of the German Revolution of 1848, in particular. In 1860, he helped to found the Germania Life Insurance Company in New York City, a corporation still operating under the name Guardian Life Insurance in the present. While the company picked up a timely trend in the financial sector, Wesendonck spotted in the life insurance business a way to manifest an ethnicity-based idea of security that served the sovereignty of a transnational community of German people. Notwithstanding his entrepreneurial achievements, he considered himself simply “an ordinary soldier and a partisan in [the community’s] struggle for freedom.”[1]

Family and Ethnic Background

Hugo Wesendonck’s family traced its background to the sixteenth century, when Holland was ruled by the Spanish Habsburgs. The surname dated back to a prevalent tradition in the Spanish Netherlands of combining the family names of married couples with the conjunction “en” to create a new surname, in this case “Wes-en-Donck.”[2] The Wesendoncks adhered to Calvinist beliefs and this apparently led them a few miles eastward to the Rhineland in the late sixteenth century. There, they had businesses in Xanten and Moers before settling permanently in the municipality of Elberfeld (today Wuppertal), where the Dutch Reformed denomination was the established church. With the advent of industrialization, the town became one of the new manufacturing centers that sprang up in the German states, soon producing its own business elite in fields such as banking and international commerce.[3]

The Wesendonck family was firmly entrenched in the bourgeoisie, its members including lawyers, mayors and Protestant vicars in the region, while some branched out into the local textile industry. Hugo’s father, August Jakob Gerhard Wesendonck (1785–1857) was in the silk-dyeing business, and his paternal aunt, Wilhelmine, was married to the silk manufacturer Johann Schramm of Crefeld. In 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic wars, the Rhineland was given to Prussia. This territorial reorganization brought both economic opportunities and challenges to people in the region. While August Wesendonck’s silk business benefitted from “very many ties to North America,” an increasing importation of manufactured goods together with easier travel routes prompted artisans and peasants to migrate, thus turning the Rhineland into the “main highway out of Germany to the New World.”[4]

Hugo was born in the wake of these political and economic transformations, on April 24, 1817 “auf der Hofaue,” his family’s estate in Elberfeld, where he grew up enjoying the comforts of a household of the business elite. He was the fourth of the five children born to August Wesendonck and his wife Reinhardine Sophia Adolfine Scholten (1791–1824), who died when he was seven. His only sister, Mathilde (1814–1838), took on traditional female responsibilities in the household after their mother’s death, but she herself died when Hugo was twenty-one. Hugo’s eldest brother, Moritz (1812–1852), became a merchant like their father. The second-born brother, Otto (1815–1896), dropped out of school and traveled to New York in 1833, presumably upon the request of his father, and started a silk importing firm called Loeschwigk, Wesendonck & Co. with another native of Elberfeld, William Loeschwigk. From then on, Otto became a frequent transatlantic traveler, using his idle time during these trips to read Goethe and “English classics” as well as to study the music of Beethoven.[5] Hugo’s younger brother, August (1819–1902), immigrated to the United States at some point in the 1840s. Census records note that he married a Prussian-born woman, Marie Louisa Ostermayer (1819–1883) and around 1860 was operating a cotton and cattle farm in Giles, Virginia.[6]

Unlike his brothers, Hugo did not move seamlessly into the merchant activities that accompanied the “first wave” of German mass migration, connecting the Rhineland and the United States.[7] Instead, during his adolescence he became interested in the nationalist and liberal ideas for a unified Germany that arose among intellectuals in the German Confederation, the uneasy compound of 39 states that had been built as a result of the Congress of Vienna in 1815. After completing high school in Elberfeld, Hugo went to Bonn and Berlin to study law, while making his first attempts to reach out to similarly-minded peers.

In Bonn he helped to establish the Corps Saxonia at today’s Friedrich Wilhelm University. The Corps Saxonia was a dueling fraternity that put an emphasis on cultivating its members’ sense of solidarity and commitment to civil society. The group gathered future artists, politicians and intellectuals, including the poet Emmanuel Geibel, the mathematician Carl Weierstrass, and Markus von Niebuhr, later a counselor to the king of Prussia.[8] In Berlin, Hugo served for one year in the Guards Rifle Battalion (Garde-Schützen Bataillon), the only unit in the Prussian military that recruited volunteers from the bourgeoisie. After his studies and military service, Hugo returned to Elberfeld for an apprenticeship as a lecturer in law at the county court and became accredited as an attorney in 1842. The beginnings of Hugo’s professional career coincided with the beginnings of his own family. In 1844 he married Johanna Wilhelmine Schramm (1820–1889), the daughter of his aunt Wilhelmine and thus his first cousin. Johanna soon gave birth to two sons, Maximillian August (in 1845) and Walter (in 1846).[9]

With his family growing, Hugo worked to establish himself as a lawyer in the city of Düsseldorf. His fame increased with two high-profile trials. In the first, he helped one of the region’s first railroad companies in its struggle to expropriate land for its right of way, while in the second he helped Countess Sophie von Hatzfeldt to obtain a divorce, a case that gained much public attention because her previous attorney and presumed lover, Ferdinand Lassalle, had been jailed. But Düsseldorf also offered him a platform for political provocation outside of lawyering. He and Johanna gathered politicians, artists and poets who shared resentments for the Prussian monarchy around their home, such as Moritz Hartman, Wolfgang Müller von Königswinter, Ferdinand Freiligrath, Ludwig Uhland, and Carl Vogt. Their politicized circle of friends stabilized and expanded with Hugo’s engagement in the Allgemeine Verein der Carnevalsfreunde zu Düsseldorf, one of seven carnival associations that existed in Düsseldorf, and one in a growing field of competing associations that sprouted in the cities of Cologne, Aachen, Mainz and other towns in the Rhineland during the 1820s and 1830s. While organizing a temporary release from the struggles of the everyday, the members of carnival associations had in common that they denounced frivolity where it did not serve to articulate serious visions of civil order, equality and liberty, thereby asserting their bürgerliche identity. During the festive season, their key public activities were the organization of costume, torchlight processions and outings of association members in symbolic “fools’ caps.” Hugo’s Verein was known as especially aggressive and outspoken by the mid-1840s. A core part of the Carnevalsfreunde’s playful but critical confrontation was to deliberately offend Prussian authorities with their satire.[10]

With his private and semi-public carnival connections as a breeding ground and with the series of loosely coordinated protests and rebellions in Germany and France never far from view, Hugo became more explicit about his political ambitions in the late 1840s. According to his own account, he was one of the “two or three Düsseldorfer” who took action in the revolts that surrounded him, as opposed to being content with reading revolutionary news “over [a] morning pint.”[11] Among the activities he listed as his contributions to the so-called March Revolution that erupted in 1848 were his reaching out to Franz Raveaux, an important democratic representative of the carnival in Cologne, his writing of petitions together with Wolfgang Müller von Königswinter, and his launch of an organization for democratic monarchy (Verein für demokratische Monarchie). All this expressed, as he liked to put it, his “sympathiz[ing] with the left,” the democratic radicals who aimed to create an all-German parliament to bring about political unification and institutions for the nation.[12] Hugo’s vision of the political system was that it should stress the sovereignty of the people over that of the monarch and that the parliamentary representation of the people had to be equipped with military powers, so that it could enforce its supremacy over the monarch. His political bloc, the Donnersberg Fraktion, came to be considered as the extreme left of the political movements the revolution engendered.[13]

Wesendonck was appointed to various assemblies that discussed how a pan-German government might be molded. Most importantly, Hugo served as the elected representative of Düsseldorf in the Vorparlament, the provisional all-German government, as well as in the Frankfurter Nationalversammlung, the first democratically elected parliament that began operation on May 18, 1849; finally, he served in the Rumpfparlament in Stuttgart, a small group of leftist hardliners that continued to meet after the Frankfurter Nationalversammlung dissolved as a result of the failed attemptto legitimize the Prussian king as the German emperor through elections. Hugo’s involvement in the illegal Rumpfparlament sealed his career as a radical democrat, at least within Germany.[14]

Becoming a Forty-Eighter: Hugo’s Networks of Escape

The event that set the stage for Hugo’s “escape,” and in fact, his transformation into a “true” Forty-Eighter, was the dissolution of the Rumpfparlamentin Stuttgart by the Wurttemberg military on June 16, 1849. Wurttemberg thereafter expelled all non-citizens, including Hugo, who was Prussian; Prussia, in turn issued a warrant for his arrest. To escape the grip of Prussian authority, Hugo first fled to nearby Baden, then to neutral Switzerland and eventually to Paris. His wife and children (who had fled from Düsseldorf) met him there, and when Hugo was expelled by the French government as well, they moved on to Le Havre to embark on a ship en route to the United States.[15] On December 5 or 6, 1849, the schooner Splendide brought the family safely to New York City, thus ending Hugo’s flight within the comparatively short span of a few weeks between mid-June and early December. The route was common among European political refugees of the Revolution of 1848. Some accounts state that Hugo even ended up on the same ship as his fellow Ferdinand Brentano, and the speed of their getaway speaks to the fact that the Wesendoncks were travelling a tried-and-tested route. In doing so, they became part of the comparatively small group of about ten thousand “true” Forty-Eighters, the European immigrants to the United States who arrived as a direct result of political persecution in their home countries for their involvement in the Revolutions of 1848 and 1849. Hugo was indicted for high treason in 1850, prosecuted in absentia, and sentenced to death. Political refugees like him formed the smallest segment in the huge stream of several million discontent, destitute and starving Europeans typically collectively referred to as Forty-Eighters, because they came to United States around this time.[16]

That said, the fact that Hugo came to the United States because he had to flee Prussian state power is only half of the story. He received correspondence that congratulated him on his decision to leave even as “peace and order [had been] restored” and “amnesty was to be expected in Prussia shortly.”[17] In addition, such letters suggest that there were things in the United States Hugo would find to his liking. As one friend wrote, “I consider you lucky and envy with all my heart… that you can move to a new world, which may have its shortcomings, but in which humans may yet feel and reveal their humanness.”[18] Such lines echo the classic promises of American democracy, such as human rights, political and intellectual freedom, and a fair chance for everyone in the pursuit of happiness that many German revolutionaries had embraced. Hugo’s party in Frankfurt, the Donnersberger Fraktion (Extreme Left), for instance, drew its democratic ideals from the American constitution.[19] And Hugo’s distinct vision of a sovereign people supported by a strong military was not too far from the armed citizenry that revolutionaries had institutionalized in the United States. As Hugo stated later in his memories of 1848, he had strong doubts that the Frankfurt parliament was capable of heralding a democratic system for Germany, as it had no soldiers and therefore was, in his opinion, nothing but an impotent debating club (“Rede-Club).[20]

Hugo’s inclination for the American political system notwithstanding, he had known about the economic opportunities in the United States for a long time. From childhood on, his family conducted its silk business with an eye on American trends and networks. The ways in which Hugo was linked to these networks was intricate. In the words of a historian of the Wesendonck family, he was part of “a strange mesh of latently incestuous relationships.”[21] For one, there was a tight intertwining of romantic and business relationships that concerned Hugo’s and Otto’s choice of partners in particular. Both brothers found wives within the orbit of their family network and both used marriage to expand their connections to the German textile industry. The year that Hugo married his cousin Johanna, and thus established ties with Crefeld’s silk manufacturing network, was the same year that Otto married and then lost his first wife Mathilde Eckhard (1817–1844), the daughter of a Frankfurt textile merchant, who died of typhus in Florence a few weeks after their wedding. Hugo’s marriage thus compensated for Otto’s lost business connections.

Otto’s second marriage in May 1848, in turn, coincided with Hugo’s election to the Frankfurt Parliament, the event that ended his activity as a lawyer in favor of a more precarious political career. Otto again married into the textile business. His second wife was Agnes Luckemeyer (1828–1902), a childhood friend and the daughter of Karl Luckemeyer, a textile producer and later founder of the German-Dutch Steamship Company in Düsseldorf. The opportunistic motivation of the marriage is perhaps reflected best in the fact that Agnes changed her name to “Mathilde,” so that she somewhat explicitly replaced Otto’s deceased wife and his sister (who had also been named Mathilde). According to a grandson of Otto and “Mathilde” (Agnes), not even their own children knew their mother’s true name until after her death. Hugo must have appreciated the replacement too, as he obviously kept the renaming secret. (For the remainder of this essay, the woman born as Agnes Luckemeyer will be referred to as Mathilde.)[22]

What followed were a number of favors the brothers and Mathilde did each other. Otto cooperated closely with Hugo’s wife’s family business in Crefeld. And Hugo introduced Otto and “Mathilde” to important political bourgeois circles in Frankfurt when the Frankfurter Nationalversammlung assembled there. The experiences of Mathilde, an attractive woman, seemed to affirm Hugo’s doubts about the “seriousness” of the parliament, because she found the representatives too flirtatious and too desultory about the question of Germany’s future.[23] Hugo later commented that he thought many of his fellow members were too focused on being “ladies’ favorites.”[24]

Some months after Hugo had to leave the country, Mathilde and Otto met him in the United States, where they had traveled to set up a trading firm for silk, manufactured goods, and dry goods in Philadelphia and also to introduce Mathilde to Otto’s business partners overseas.[25] In the course of his flight Hugo had met Richard Wagner, the renowned composer who was also a political refugee from the 1848 revolution, and when Otto and Mathilde returned to Europe they settled in Zurich, where Wagner had also landed, to reestablish Otto’s silk business. Wagner’s acquaintance with Hugo soon brought Otto and Mathilde to his attention, and Otto became Wagner’s most generous sponsor while Mathilde became Wagner’s muse, inspiring among other works Tristan und Isolde and the Wesendonck Lieder.[26] While Mathilde emphasized that her relationship to Wagner was of a “high, pure, noble and ideal nature,” being within the Wagners’ inner circle certainly helped all the Wesendoncks to assert themselves as highly cultured members of the upper class on both sides of the Atlantic.[27]

Whether Hugo had to escape or not, there were observers who thought that prosecution alone did not make him a true Forty-Eighter. Years later, in 1874, a colleague from Hugo’s Frankfurt days criticized him as a “shallow, democratic word-hero.”[28] Other contemporaries in the United States were more forgiving about Hugo’s escape from Prussian state power. A biography of important German-Americans described him as having “the practical, sober view that the dreamy type of idealism in true reality is without substance.”[29] Indeed, a look into Hugo’s entrepreneurial initiatives in the US suggest that his self-fashioning as a persecuted revolutionary was as much an expression of his political standpoint as a welcome business strategy.

Business Development: Tapping Ethnic Capital 1850s–1860s

Hugo’s entrepreneurial initiatives gradually shifted from extending the family business in the United States to meeting the interests of his fellow German immigrants. After his arrival in the United States he first moved to Philadelphia and joined his brother Otto in trading silk, manufactured goods and dry goods. The activity made him aware of the conflicting visions his immigrant cohort entertained abroad. In Philadelphia, Germans were torn between the idea of building a “New Germany in North America,” as propagated by the German Society of Philadelphia, and the calls for assimilation prompted by the rise of the “Know-Nothings,” the American nativist party founded in Philadelphia in 1845.[30] According to Carl Schurz, a fellow revolutionary and prominent German-American, Hugo understood his business as a vehicle to negotiate these tensions. He was known not only as a “one-time member of the Parliament…of Düsseldorf,” Schurz wrote, but also as a representative of “an excellent mercantile business in Philadelphia,” traveling “in part for [his business] and in part to prepare the way for a national convention of the Germans in the United States.” In addition to strengthening Germans’ ethnic identity, Hugo mobilized German votes for the Republican Party. Schurz noted that Hugo initially “belonged to the pro-slavery Democrats, but now very actively and effectively works for the party of freedom.”[31] Hugo organized a German Republican Central Committee in 1856 and used it as a platform for proposing his own vision of the German-American community.[32] In a speech he gave before the newly founded committee, he stated that Germans were not seeking asylum, but had a right to “free labor” and an “inalienable heritage.” He deemed the “task” ahead “to build a street of freedom through which the stream of civilization will travel across [this] continent… to turn back the intervention of a privileged class which endeavors to exploit the common heritage of all states for its special interests,” and “to maintain for all times the bonds of unity, which holds together these 31 states as one family.”[33]

Hugo began tackling this task by using his ties to German-American entrepreneurs and to representatives of the financial sector in favor of helping the distressed. According to an anecdote his son Max A. Wesendonck recalled in an interview with the Eastern Underwriter in 1915, his father’s “strong personality and upright manner [had] made him friends among the leading people of the city” of Philadelphia and when he was approached as such by friends in need of money, “his customary energy” usually prompted him to use his contacts with “prominent bankers with whom he was intimate” to their favor.[34] Perhaps due to this intimacy with the financial sector, Hugo entered the orbit of representatives of the German Savings Bank in New York City, which was founded in 1857.[35] He was also closely associated with the German Society of New York, the most important mutual aid organization in Kleindeutschland, Manhattan’s primary German neighborhood.[36] The bank expanded existing immigrant services with offers to protect earnings as well as to handle business transactions in their native language. Its first annual report of 1861 revealed that the project rapidly drew the savings of tailors, cabinetmakers, shoemakers, bakers, blacksmiths, butchers, barbers, merchants, clerks and representatives of other jobs and crafts typical of Kleindeutschland at the time.[37] Considering the narrow and generally low-income customer base, ethnocentric financial services certainly did not promise large profits. They underscored, however, that demands for freedom through security had become potent in the German-American community. Alongside his involvement in the German Savings Bank and the German Society of New York, Hugo thus developed his own initiative of targeting German middle-class fears as a new market. Sometime in 1859 or 1860 he moved from Philadelphia to 74 Beaver Street in New York City, in order to start the “only German [insurance] company in the United States,” as advertisements soon put it.[38]

Revolutionary Entrepreneurship: The Germania Life Insurance, 1860–1900

The founding of the Germania Life Insurance Company, as it was called in its charter of March 28, 1860, was in many ways a response to large-scale contemporary developments rather than Hugo’s personal innovation. The contexts that framed its emergence were the development of life insurance as a concept, the industrialization of Europe and North America, and the emigration of millions of Europeans to America, which provided the Germania with its specific market. Nonetheless, Hugo must be credited for getting the company underway and for shaping its operational specifics. As historian Anita Rapone argues, the fact that his draft charter was instantly and unanimously accepted by the group of German-Americans who served on the first board of directors shows that considerations about offering insurance to fellow countrymen in the United States must have been both long in place and yet lacking a leader.[39]

How Hugo filled the void can be shown by a brief look into the charter he drafted for the Germania. Like American life insurance companies that had emerged over the 1830s and 1840s, such as the New York Life Insurance Co. (NYLIC), the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (Met Life), and the Mutual Life Insurance of New York (MONY), he defined the purpose of the company as making “insurances upon the lives of individuals and… to grant, purchase or dispose of annuities.” While this showed his intention to enter a rapidly growing and highly profitable economic sector (between 1825 and 1870, the total life insurance in force, i.e. the total death benefits payable on all existing policies, rose from $100,000 to over one billion),[40] Hugo made clear from the start that he preferred slow, sustainable growth and solid foundations over fast rewards. This reasoning was reflected in his choice to found the the Germania as a mixed company that paid dividends to both stockholders and policyholders. In addition, the firm was incorporated with a capital of $200,000 USD, which was twice as much as the contemporary insurance laws in New York State required, divided into 4,000 shares valued at $50 apiece (the company’s total capitalization was equivalent to $ in 2010 dollars). The first step in the company’s formation, then, was to sell these shares to wealthy locals. Building its credibility upon the double liability of shareholders, the Germania expected to be able to reward them with a dividend of up to seven percent per year, and—more remarkably—future policy holders with proceeds from the company’s net profits.[41]

The communal business approach obviously encouraged both renowned German leaders in New York City as well as its target group, the middle-class workers of Kleindeutschland, to become involved with the Germania. The first board of directors, for instance, included Friedrich Kapp and Oswald Ottendorfer, the publishers of two German-speaking newspapers; the Democrat and future mayor of New York Charles Godfrey Gunter; Wall Street financier Joseph Seligman and merchants who shared Hugo’s refugee fate, such as Lewis E. Amsinck and Eduard Luckemeyer (brother of Agnes “Mathilde” Wesendonck).[42] The 4,000 shares of the company capital were sold quickly through the agency of five commissioners, one of them being Hugo himself. Together they attracted the interest of subscribers with mainly German-sounding names, topped by Otto Wesendonck who became the largest subscriber with 478 shares. In July 1860, after all the stock had been sold, the Germania was poised to start issuing policies, and did so quite successfully. By the end of the year the company had written 169 policies, mainly on the lives of the subscribers’ friends and family in the greater New York area. Hugo was elected as the company’s first president and served in this role until 1897, two years before his death. As Robert E. Wright and George David Smith put it, he “steered Germania as its commanding, paternal leader… nearly working himself to death.”[43] The development of the company that followed thus can be credited to Hugo’s guidance.

Overall, Hugo lived to see the Germania grow, slowly yet steadily. It emerged during the Civil War, a period in which competitors faced the loss of customers in the South and the challenge of expanding into new territory in the Mid-West and West. And it survived the Panic of 1873, which reduced the total of 129 American companies in operation to fifty-five in 1882.[44] The reasons for their failure were typically bad investments, reckless speculating with insurance money, as well as high mortality rates and high expenses. The Germania, to the contrary, carefully avoided risky business maneuvers and prioritized keeping expenses low. As a report of 1878 emphasized, “the direct cost of management to the insured during 18 years and 6 months has been less than 1 pr. ct. of the premiums paid by them.”[45] Correspondingly, the value of Germania life insurance in force rose from about 32 million in 1870 to about 82 million in 1900. As such, the Germania survived not merely the booms and busts of the industry. At times, it benefited precisely from the demise of badly-managed competitors. A “flight to quality”[46] as well as the “reputation of conservatism, honesty and business capacity” it built, as a superintendent of the NY Insurance Department stated in 1878, allowed the Germania to thrive even during economic downturns.[47]

Table 1: Germania Growth in Life Insurance in Force From 1870–1910
Year Total Face Amount of Life Insurance in Force in USD Value in 2010 USD
1870 $32,053,962 $553,000,000
1875 $32,053,962 $553,000,000
1880 $33,885,522 $746,000,000
1885 $39,979,985 $935,000,000
1890 $57,322,243 $1,420,000,000
1895 $69,025,662 $1,850,000,000
1900 $82,542,059 $2,210,000,000
1905 $110,979,307 $2,840,000,000
1910 $127,503,533 $3,020,000,000

The success of the Germania can be explained mainly by its commitment to an ethical corporate culture, policyholders, and long-term financial strength. As Cornelius Doremus, Hugo’s successor as a president, asserted in 1901, lowering expenses and doubling the required equity capital was the tried-and-tested strategy for the Germania since “the early struggle of its infancy.”[48] In addition to building reserves that could cover the losses of policyholders reliably, the Germania developed methods of outreach geared to what Hugo defined as “healthy lives” and “first-class risks” in the German population.[49] Following the model of other American insurers, Hugo started to create a nationwide agency system—a network of both non-exclusive and exclusive company representatives who resided in a variety of locations and who could guide potential customers through the process of obtaining an insurance policy without having to deal directly with the headquarters. Hugo began this process even before the Germania’s incorporation in June 1860, seeking out potential agents in cities all across the United States with the distinction that the geographical expansion he envisioned evolved through cities with major German populations, and through German representatives alone. In a letter to solicit workers for prospective branch offices outside New York, he emphasized that they “ought to be Germans of the highest respectability, popular, active and in daily contact with the substantial middle classes of Germany, as the company will chiefly rely for business on the patronage of this population.”[50] Starting out with four agents in New York and ten agents elsewhere, Hugo raised the number of agents to 21 in New York City and 117 elsewhere in the course of the company’s first five years.[51]

In addition to establishing a nationwide presence of office branches, Hugo attempted to enhance Germans’ awareness of the Germania by means of two sales strategies. The more conventional one was to provide agencies with advertisements and pamphlets and to place ads in the local news. Newspapers ranging from the Beobachter am Missouri to the Boston Intelligenz Blatt accordingly spread the word of the “sole German Insurance Company in the United States” that had “offices everywhere” and that catered to a specifically German need by allowing policyholders to “travel and live in Europe without special permission,” a privilege that life insurers typically denied their customers as travels increased mortality risks.[52] The second strategy for garnering attention for the Germania was to utilize Hugo’s revolutionary background specifically. Hugo asked friends in a variety of cities to organize informal gatherings by promising people that they would meet the famous “Forty-Eighter” and learn hitherto unknown and unpublished facts about the German revolution. After offering his recollections at these gatherings, Hugo prompted the attendees to become insured by his company. Even if most of the people in the audience were neither familiar with the concept of life insurance nor aware that they were attending a sales event, the strategy sold numerous policies. As J. M. Kesslinger surmises, the audience seemed to believe easily that “if this illustrious man with the square beard and the deeply resonant voice said it was good, then it must be so.”[53]

While attracting more and more customers, the agency system was at the same time crucial for enforcing strict methods of risk selection and exclusion within the German population. Each office was equipped with a physician who examined the applicants based on a catalogue of health criteria and international statistics of mortality. The examination was used to answer more than sixteen questions the Germania deemed relevant for assessing whether or not a candidate promised longevity. Judging from criteria such as personal characteristics, family records and the age of their parents on each side, physicians were supposed to classify an applicant as a “excellent,” “good” or “fair whole life risk” and recommend them either for “assurance during life” (a lower premium paid for a whole life-time), or a “stated period only.”[54] Another source of selection criteria was provided by mortality expectations for specific professions as prepared by international actuaries. Alert to “the risks engaged in the liquor business” as shown in a study by the Scottish Amicable Society, Hugo for instance instructed his agents and examiners to generally reject applicants who were beer-sellers, spirit merchants and inn-keepers, even if these professions were widespread among German immigrants.[55]

Over the 1870s and 1880s, Hugo frequently sent out bulletins demanding adjustment of the conditions on which insurance would be granted, based on international findings on mortality; he also kept a sharp eye on the plausibility of medical examiners’ recommendations. These interventions suggest that he considered selection of insurance policyholders a high-priority concern. At the New York headquarters the effort was paralleled by establishing corresponding scientific and management structures. Hugo hired two German immigrants, first John Frederic Entz (1798–1872), and later Hubert Cillis (1848–1925) as actuaries.[56] The two men were well-connected with other North American actuaries and helped the company develop its products by calculating rates and premiums for life insurance, endowments and annuities based on their own data collection. Hugo also prompted his actuaries to develop transparent principles of calculation and to compare their actuarial tables with those of the four leading insurance companies of the day, thus allowing the firm to easily assemble information for future use both within the company and among the larger life insurance industry. To get a better grip on the growing agency system, Hugo followed the example of industry leaders and appointed additional managers for large districts and high-commission territories. His determination to keep a tight oversight over the growing company operations, which began to strain its administrative capacities, was perhaps most strongly revealed in 1893, when he established the post of a salaried special director, whose responsibilities were “assisting generally in the management of the Company’s business, and especially to superintend the Company’s exterior service,” and filled it with his son, Max A. Wesendonck.[57]

With those measures of expansion and selection in place, the Germania soon undertook to become a multinational enterprise in the late 1860s. Due to its focus on a German-American customer base, the international expansion was necessary to compensate for the relatively small share of approximately 1.8 percent the Germania held in the total legal reserve insurance in force within the United States.[58] The economic rationale behind this was not only to sell more policies, but also to achieve a diversified base that could prevent the company from falling prey to periods of national economic depressions. After short-lived and disappointing moves into Canada, Cuba, Costa Rica, and Chile in 1867, the Germania opened its first successful branch office at the prestigious Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin in 1868. Under the guidance of Herman Rose, a Prussian-born, charismatic and well-experienced Germania representative, the branch was able to extended its business from Prussia into all parts of the German empire and beyond, entering Southern, Western and Eastern Europe with the exception of Britain and Scandinavia.[59]

The move to Europe strengthened the Germania’s competitiveness with the big American firms, such as NYLIC and MONY, who began to appeal to the well-situated German-American middle class and who sought multinational expansion, as well. Up to 1917, when World War I forced the company to terminate its overseas business and to rename itself Guardian Life Insurance, the Germania’s foreign business remained disproportionately large for an American insurer. Starting with 1.4 percent of its total business in 1868, foreign revenues made up a third of its total in 1885, and rose again to almost 50 percent by 1900.[60] The extraordinarily large size of its foreign activities was a strong indication of the strategic advantage the Germania had due to focusing on an ethnically-defined niche market. As an advertisement of the 1870s neatly summarized, the Germania was no longer solely the only German insurance company in America, but also the only “American company which has established Agencies throughout Europe.”[61]

The reasons that the Germania spread overseas much easier than its American competitors were that it faced lower cultural and language barriers, as well as lower costs for transactions, legal regulations and communication due to its highly effective and relatively independent Berlin office. According to a prospectus of the Berlin division, the European board of directors included the former Prussian consul Eduard, Freiherr von der Hendt, a member of the Prussian legislature, Heinrich Hardt, the son of a German-American businessman, and Hermann Marcuse, one of the company’s German-American founders, who had returned from New York to Berlin to help run the foreign business. The Germania thus could draw on personnel with backgrounds in the “Forty-Eighter” emigration as well as experience within the Prussian government that was not available to other American insurers.[62] With their domestic authority as Germans or German-Americans, the company could claim convincingly to be able to make the advantages of American insurance available to German customers. In its German-language prospectus, the Berlin office explained the complex procedures by which Germans in the German empire could benefit from interest rates, dividends and lower premiums that could be offered only by American firms in the German market and were thus superior to the proposals of any German insurance company.[63]

Its transatlantic focus and advantages notwithstanding, a description of the company development would be incomplete without mentioning that the Germania was not entirely bound to the patronage of the German population either. One hint that gestures towards a business management beyond ethnic confines is the bilingual advertising and internal correspondence (despite Hugo’s explicit desire to hire German agents, many of his circulars were written in English). Another one is that Hugo played a leading role in establishing the Chamber of Life Insurance, a trade association, in the United States in 1873. This permanent union of the majority of American life insurances included big players like the NYLIC, the Continental Life Insurance Company, and the Equitable Life, and aimed to “add strength and stability to the institution of life insurance as conducted upon sound principles, by cooperation for mutual protection, and for the conduct of the business with economy and in the most favorable manner for the interests of the insured.”[64]

Finally, the Germania developed types of policies that may have targeted the American, rather than the German-American market. In addition to allowing its policyholders to travel and reside in Europe, the Germania declared it would specialize in applying the tontine principle of dividend accumulation. Originating in early modern England, tontines allowed members to withdraw the reserves of all those that died within a stipulated period of 10, 15 or 20 years on top of the accumulated surplus earnings. Although most Americans rejected tontines as an immoral practice of “betting on lives,”[65] the principle helped the Germania to attract a speculative-minded clientele in addition to those that were seeking responsible family protection.[66] While Hugo had done much to blend an ethnically specific sense of freedom with notions of financial security among German immigrants, his marketing, joint lobbying, and special offers had also laid a foundation for the company to grow outside of this focus, as the continued existence of the Guardian Life Insurance since World War I to the present day demonstrates.

Social Life, Networks, Family

Even if Hugo “almost worked himself to death” by leading the Germania, his role in the company did not take a center stage in his self-representation. In his own account, published upon his official retirement as the president of the Germania in 1898, he reasserted himself as “an ordinary soldier and a partisan in [the German] struggle for freedom.”[67]

That Hugo continued this cause in the United States, while developing specific notions of security as being part of this struggle, comes to the fore if we look into Hugo’s activities beyond the Germania. His revolutionary entrepreneurship prompted him over the years to support a range of business initiatives in the financial sector. Hugo was a trustee and/or director of financial institutions such as the German Savings Bank, the German-American Bank, and the Title Guarantee and Trust Company. He also was involved with establishing medical and cultural institutions for the German community, namely the German Hospital and Dispensary (1861) and a “first-class German theatre” in New York City (1871).[68] Eventually, as the insurance sector grew, he also served on the Board of the German-American Insurance Company, founded in New York in 1872 with a capital of $1,000,000 ($18.4 million in 2010), which focused on issuing fire, marine and inland policies, and thus complemented the Germania’s life insurance business.[69]

Next to his involvement in business corporations, Hugo was affiliated with the several immigrant organizations New York had to offer. Like most Forty-Eighters, he was a member of the German Society of New York, the Deutsche Verein (founded by his brother Otto), the Deutscher Liederkranz, the Deutscher Geselligwissenschaftlicher Verein, the Deutsche Hospital, the Century Club, Legal Aid Society, Down Town Club, Merchant’s Club and the St. John’s Guild.[70] Aside from these permanent affiliations, Hugo retained a keen interest in war and military operations and frequently took on prominent roles in ad-hoc organizing on their behalf. In 1862, for instance, when Union general Franz Sigel—another Forty Eighter—protested military conditions, Wesendonck joined a delegation from the National War Committee of New York City that met with Abraham Lincoln and received his assurances that he would resolve Sigel’s concerns.[71] Likewise, Hugo organized mass meetings to mobilize German-Americans on the issue of European military operations, such as the Schleswig-Holstein Question during the German-Danish War in 1864 and the German-French War in 1870.[72] Not surprisingly, Hugo’s ambition in German community building also concerned domestic U.S. politics. Even before he became an entrepreneur, he became a staunch adherent of the Republican Party, which fought for the American Union and against slavery. To mobilize German votes for the Republican nominee John C. Frémont in the 1856 presidential election, Hugo founded the German Central Republican Committee in Philadelphia. The committee provided him a platform to draft resolutions on behalf of German expectations towards the American government, such as altering legislation that prohibited liquor sales on Sundays.[73] Such calls to both transatlantic and expatriate German solidarity often involved community organizing across the institutional boundaries of clubs and Vereins, thus adding a new layer to German-American networks and public reputation to the “partisan” Hugo Wesendonck. German-American contemporaries perceived him correspondingly as being “indisputably pre-eminent in the field of German-American-ness, the powerful development [of] which he had shaped significantly and fruitfully.” And the American press called him one of the “famous revolution members” who took “an active part in American politics.”[74]

The building blocks of Hugo’s diverse social and political activities, however, were most likely contacts dating back to his escape and his family. As eulogists pointed out, he had not only an extraordinarily influential circle of friends, including Friedrich Kapp, Oswald Ottendorfer, and Carl Schurz.[75] His wife Johanna Wilhelmine contributed greatly to his social standing by turning their private homes—in Düsseldorf, Philadelphia and New York—into popular meeting places for academics and artists, and “at all times the refuge of exiles and patriots.”[76] Since such contacts for the most part originated in shared exile experiences, rather than political or religious affiliations, they helped increase Hugo’s reputation across various social boundaries. A key element of Hugo’s leisure activities by consequence was to accept invitations to attend anniversaries, charity balls, and funerals, often again bringing him news coverage.[77]

Although Hugo himself hardly revealed his family ties to the public (his close relatives very rarely accompanied him in public events), the importance of his siblings, wife and children is evident in several instances. His brother Otto remained by his side in the Germania, first as a main subscriber to its shares and later as a director. And his son Max too joined the company first as a director and then a vice-president, and remained in this post after Hugo’s death.[78] Johanna Wilhelmine was honored by a funeral address given by none other than Carl Schurz in 1889, suggesting that he had known her very well.[79] Little is known about their American-born children, a son named Otto (who died in age 37) as well as two daughters, other than that Hugo took some of them onto the two trips he made to Germany after his escape.[80] While these visits, one in 1869 and one in 1900, officially were made to attend festivities of the Corps Saxonia, it is likely that he used the occasion to show his American-born children the country they came from. Perhaps ironically, Hugo’s death on December 12, in 1900 closed the circle between his private and public transatlantic family live. According to one of the funeral addresses, the last thing he did was attending a lecture on Tristan and Isolde, the opera by Richard Wagner that was inspired by his sister-in law Mathilde Wesendonck.[81]


Hugo Wesendonck came to the United States from a merchant family background with strong political convictions regarding the formation of a democratic German state for which he had fought in the revolution of 1848. Even though these convictions had forced him to leave his home country, they proved beneficial for him in the United States. Hugo found easy access to the German-American communities in Philadelphia and New York because of existing family networks and because of the revolutionary experience he shared with many others in his migration cohort. Rather than suffering from the loss of his home country, Hugo thus found in the United States fertile ground to develop his political talents into a business model.

That Hugo did not have a background in finance and still was able to quickly set up a successful life insurance company for German-Americans underscored that it was not know-how, but contacts, money and charisma that sustained his entrepreneurial initiatives and bourgeoisie lifestyle on the other side of the Atlantic. In New York City, the capital of the American life insurance business, many Germans—both low-income workers and wealthy elites seeking possibilities for safe investments—aspired to attain economic stability and hence welcomed his business. Additional ethnically specific factors in the company’s success consisted in Hugo’s perhaps typically German way of doing business. Hugo favored security over quick returns, kept expenses low and the books straight, and carefully selected the risks he took, thus creating a reputation of “conservatism, honesty and business capacity” that many competing companies lacked.[82] The drive for security that took its toll among Germans was cleverly catered to by Hugo’s self-representation. Even if Hugo acted in the interest of his company, his marketing strategies avoided mimicking an experienced insurer. Hugo staged himself, instead, as a Forty-Eighter, who was an idealist obligated to his countrymen and as such a trustworthy leader.

Hugo’s ethnic focus in business practices and self-representation worked well during his life-time, yet could not be sustained. World War I precluded the further use of the celebration of German ethnicity as a sales argument. The new strategy of the company became to hide its German roots and to appeal to a much broader customer base. That the Germania could operate, albeit under the new name Guardian Life Insurance, to the present day reveals that Hugo’s actual contribution was broader than ethnic and revolutionary lines. Whether or not he was aware of this, the rise of life insurance in mid-nineteenth century American society was neither a short-lived phenomenon nor a parochial German need, but a major cultural innovation.[83]


[1] In original “Ich war in demselben nur ein gemeiner Soldat und Kämpe für die freiheitlichen Bestrebungen desselben.” All translations by the author. Hugo Wesendonck, Erinnerungen aus dem Jahre 1848 (New York: [n.p.], 1898), 20.

[2] Wolfram Albrecht, “Hugo Wesendonck,” in Wuppertaler Biographien, vol. 15.7, ed. Maria-Lusie Baum (Wuppertal: Born Verlag, 1967), 99–110, here 99. The Wesendon(c)k family varied the spelling of its name. I will use the spelling “Wesendonck.”

[3] Anita Rapone, The Guardian Life Insurance Company, 1860–1920: A History of a German-American Experience (New York: New York University Press, 1987), 15.

[4] Albrecht, “Wesendonck,” 101; Stanley Nadel, Little Germany: Ethnicity, Religion and Class in New York City, 1845–1880 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 17–18.

[5] In original “die englischen Klassiker, aber vor allem Goethe und Beethoven, waren seine Begleiter gewesen.” Friedrich Wilhelm Bissing, Mathilde Wesendonck: Die Frau und die Dichterin (Wien: A. Schroll, 1942), 12.

[6] 1860 U.S. Census, Giles Couty, Virginia, population schedule, roll M653_1345, NARA microfilm publication M653, via online database.

[7] Agnes Bretting, Soziale Probleme deutscher Einwanderer in New York City 1800–1860 (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1981), 3.

[8] Corps Saxonia, “Geschichte,” (accessed December 23, 2015).

[9] Albrecht, “Wesendonck,” 108. The overall number of Hugo’s children is unclear. There are records that suggest that he had a third son, Otto, born in 1847, who died from pneumonia in 1884. In addition, some records mention one and others two daughters. Their names are unknown. On Otto, see a death notice in the New York Times of April 17, 1884, 5. Hugo Wesendonck’s daughters are mentioned in “Hugo Wesendonck Dead,” New York Times, December 21, 1900, 3.

[10] Elaine Glovka Spencer, “Regimenting Revelry: Rhenish Carnival in Early 19th Century,” Central European History 28 (1995): 457–481, esp. 463 and 477–480; Jonathan Sperber, Rhineland Radicals: The Democratic Movement and the Revolution of 1848–1849 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991), 98–101.

[11] Wesendonck, Erinnerungen, 1.

[12] In original: “dass ich mit der Linken symphatisire [sic].“ Wesendonck, Einnerungen, 5.

[13] Mattheisen identifies Hugo Wesendonck as showing the “most radical” voting behavior in the Frankfurt assembly. Donald J. Mattheisen, “Liberal Constitutionalism in the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848: An Inquiry Based on Roll-Call Analysis,” Central European History, 12/2 (June 1979): 124–142, here 129–130.

[14] Theodor Lemke, “Hugo Wesendonck,” in Geschichte des Deutschtums von New York, trans. Gertrude Barber (New York: Verlag von Theodor Lemke, 1891),

[15] Le Havre was next to Antwerp and Rotterdam one of the traditional departures for US-bound ships outside of Germany. Richard O’Connor, The German-Americans: An Informal History (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1968), 103.

[16] More than four million Europeans migrated to the US between 1840 and 1860. Approximately ten thousand expatriates can be linked to the persecutions following the popular upsurges in 1848 and 1849. Cf. Mischa Honeck, We Are the Revolutionists: German-Speaking Immigrants and American Abolitionists After 1848 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011), 3 and 189. For numbers, see Adolph Zucker, The Forty-Eighters: Political Refugees of the German Revolution of 1848 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1950).

[17] Heinrich Köster to Hugo Wesendonck, October 12, 1849, folder “M.A. Wesendonck,” box 207, reel 115, Carl Schurz Papers (microfilm, 126 reels; Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Indeed, those who did not escape but stood trial were released around 1850. See Lemke, “Wesendonck,” 3.

[18] In original: “Ich preise und beneide dich von ganzem Herzen, dass du (…) in eine neue [Welt] ziehen kannst, die zwar auch der Mängel manche haben mag, in welcher der Mensch indess doch fühlen u. zeigen darf, dass er Mensch ist (…).” Köster to Wesendonck, Oct. 12, 1849.

[19] Mattheisen, “Liberal Constitutionalism in the Frankfurt Parliament,” 130.

[20] Wesendonck, Erinnerungen, 6.

[21] Chris Walton, “Wagner, Otto and the Three Mathildes: Braut und Schwester bist du dem Bruder,”The Musical Times 143 (Autumn 2002): 37–47, 44.

[22] Bissing, Mathilde Wesendonck, 12.

[23] Bissing, Mathilde Wesendonck, 12.

[24] Wesendonck, Erinnerungen, 15 and 18. In original “Liebling der Damen.“

[25] Bissing, Mathilde Wesendonck, 12.

[26] Richard Wagner to Theodor Uhlig, Dresden, February 24, 1852. in Richard Wagner: Sämtliche Briefe, Vol. 4: Briefe der Jahre 1851–1852, ed. Getrud Strobel and Werner Wolf (Leipzig: VEB Verlag für Musik, 1979), 301; Maria-Luise Baum, “Mathilde und Otto Wesendonk,” in Wuppertaler Biographien, vol. 3 (Wuppertal: Born Verlag, 1961), 137–48, here 140–141.

[27] Facsimile of a letter from Mathilde Wesendonck, Berlin, March 26, 1892, in Richard Wagner to Matilde Wesendonck, trans. William Ashton Ellis (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1905), xlix.

[28] In original: “ein demokratischer Wortheld vom reinsten Wasser, das wohl eben nicht sehr tief war.” Gustav Schwetschke: Jubilaums- Ausgabe der Novae epistolae obscurorum virorum: zum ersten Male mit Erläuterungen versehen: Erinnerungen aus den Frankfurter Parlamentstagen (Halle: G. Schwetschke’scher Verlag, 1874), 49.

[29] Lemke, “Wesendonck,” 1.

[30] O’Connor, German-Americans, 73, 122.

[31] Carl Schurz to Frederick Althaus, November 15, 1856, reprinted in Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz 1841–1869, ed. and trans. by Joseph Schafer (New York: Da Capo Press, 1970), 171–173, here 171.

[32] Lesley Ann Kawaguchi, “Diverging Political Affiliations and Ethnic Perspectives: Philadelphia Germans and Antebellum Politics,” Journal of American Ethnic History, 13.2 (1994): 3-29, here 5.

[33] C. F. Huch, “The Philadelphia Germans Join the Republican Party in 1856,” in Mitteilungen des deutschen Pioniervereins von Philadelphia, vol. 21, 1911, 16–17.

[34] Qtd. in J. M. Kesslinger, Guardian of a Century, 1860–1960 (New York: Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, 1960), 17–18.

[35] Hugo was apparently a member of the bank’s board of trustees as early as 1870. See The William Steinway Diary (Smithsonian American History Museum), entry of April 3, 1870, (accessed March 23, 2016).

[36] The board included well-known German-Americans, such as Daniel F. Tiemann, C. Godfrey Gunther, August Belmont, Henry C. Keyser, William Aufermann, William Loeschwigk, R. A. Witthaus, Edwin A. Oelrichs, Robert Schell, G. Henry Koop, August Weismann, Jacob Windmüller, Oswald Ottendorfer, Anthony Dugro, Charles Brueninghausen, Charles Brensing, George Ebbinghausen, Hieronomous N. Wilhelm, F. Wiegand, Otto Ernst, Philip Bissinger, Theodore Vietor and John Loser. Reinhard R. Doerries, “Making it in Banking: The German Savings Bank in the City of New York as a Test Case in Nineteenth-Century America,” in Liberalitas, ed. Norbert Finzsch and Hermann Wellenreuther (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1992), 443–456, here 455.

[37] Doerries, “Making It in Banking,” 446–447.

[38] In original: “Die Germania ist die einzige deutsche Lebens-Versicherungs-Gesellschaft in den Vereinigten Staaten.” Bostoner Intelligenz Blatt, Aug 29, 1869, newspaper scrapbook (1869–1877), doc. no. 0405000020001, Corporate Archives of the Guardian Life Insurance Company (hereafter CAGLI); Jahres-Bericht und Mitglieder-Verzeichnis der Deutschen Gesellschaft der Stadt New York (New York, 1860), 47. I thank Faith F. Drennan, Assistant Vice President, Legal Project Initiatives, Law Department of the Guardian life Insurance Company, for kindly providing materials from the corporate archives and Betsy Hauck for establishing this contact.

[39] Rapone, Guardian Life Insurance, 17.

[40] All amounts in 1860 dollars. Sharon Ann Murphy, Investing in Life: Insurance in Antebellum America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 5.

[41] Charter and By-Laws of the Germania Life Insurance Company (New York, 1860), pp. 10 and 13–14, CAGLI, doc no. 0101000010003.

[42] The other founding directors included Isaac Bernheimer, Charles Breusing, Elie Charlier, John H. Hardt, Louis Jay, Edward Kaupe, Peter Kauth, Jeremiah Larocque, Johannes Lienau, Charles Luling, Hermann Marcuse, Hermann Rose, Max Schaefer, John F. Schepeler, Frederick Schwendler, Leonard J. Stiastny, Edward von der Heydt, Louis von Hofmann, David Wallerstein, Adolphus Oechs, Bernhard Westermann, John Westfall and Melvin S. Whitney. Charter and By-Laws, 15–16.

[43] Robert E. Wright and George David Smith, Mutually Beneficial: The Guardian and Life Insurance in America (New York: New York University Press, 2004), 28–29.

[44] Wright and Smith, Mutually Beneficial, 33.

[45] “Extract from the Report of the Superintendent of the Ins[urance] Department on the Examination of the Condition of the Germania Life Insurance Co. on the 1st of January, 1878,” p. 2, doc no. 0405000030005, CAGLI.

[46] Wright and Smith, Mutually Beneficial, 33.

[47] “Extract from the Report of the Superintendent,” 1878, CAGLI.

[48] Quoted in Wright and Smith, Mutually Beneficial, 25.

[49] Circular to the Company’s Agents and Physicians, March 1875, doc no. 0601000010003, CAGLI. For the most recent account on the development of the calculation and categorization of individual risks in actuary science see Dan Bouk, How Our Days Become Numbered: The Rise of the Statistical Individual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

[50] Quoted in Rapone, Guardian Life Insurance, 19.

[51] Wright and Smith, Mutually Beneficial, 30.

[52] Advertisement in Beobachter am Missouri, December 18, 1869; in original: “Die Germania ist die einzige deutsche Lebens-Versicherungs-Gesellschaft in den Vereinigten Staaten und hat überall Agenturen. Versicherte können ohne besondere Erlaubnis nach Europa reisen und dort wohnen.” Bostoner Intelligenz Blatt, Aug 29, 1869, both in newspaper scrapbook (1869–1877), doc. no. 0405000020001, CAGLI.

[53] These cities included Philadelphia, Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. Kesslinger, Guardian of a Century, 31.

[54] Circular to the Company’s Medical Examiners, November 1, 1877, doc no. 060100001000, CAGLI,.

[55] Circular to the Company’s Agents and Examiners, March 31, 1877, doc no. 0601000010002, CAGLI,.

[56] E. J. Moorehead, “Sketches of Early Modern North American Actuaries,” Transactions – Society of Actuaries 36 (1984): 351–397, 377.

[57] Quoted in Wright and Smith, Mutually Beneficial, 34–36.

[58] Ibid., 31.

[59] Ibid., 38.

[60] Ibid., 39.

[61] Advertisement, [n.d.], in newspaper scrapbook (1869–1877), doc. no. 0405000020001, CAGLI.

[62] Prospectus der Europäischen Abteilung der New-Yorker Lebens-Versicherungs-Gesellschaft, Germania, “The Germania Life Insurance Company in Berlin,” (1870), 1.

[63] Ibid., 7-9.

[64] “The Life Insurance Combination,” New York Tribune, May 12, 1873, 5.

[65] Cf. Geoffrey Clark,Betting on Lives: The Culture of Life Insurance in England, 1695–1775 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999).

[66] “Germania Life Insurance Company,” in Henry Rodgers Hayden and G. Reid MacKay, The Annual Cyclopedia of Insurance in the United States, 1893–94, vol. 3 (New York: Index Publishing, 1894), 159.

[67] “Hugo Wesendonck Resigns,” New-York Tribune, August 17, 1897, 7; Wesendonck, Erinnerungen, 20.

[68] This list of memberships is drawn from Medina, “Early Banks”; Rapone, Guardian Life Insurance, 181; and “The New German Theatre. Meeting in Aid of the Project,”New York Herald, May 22, 1871, 3.

[69] “German-American Insurance Company,” in G. Reid MacKay and H. Rodgers Hayden, The Annual Cyclopedia of Insurance in the United States, 1898–99 (New York: Index Publishing, 1899), 176–177.

[70] “Otto Wesendonck,” New York Times, November 20, 1896, 5; obituary in the New-Yorker Staatszeitung, December 21, 1900, reprinted in In Memoriam Hugo Wesendonck, 35.

[71] National War Committee of the Citizens of New York, Report of the Committee to ask the attention of the President to the complaints of General Sigel (New York: The Committee, 1862). New York Historical Society, Main Collection, E467.1.S58 N5 1862.

[72] “The Germans for Schleswig-Holstein: Mass Meeting at the Cooper Institute,” New York Tribune, Jan. 9, 1864, 1; and “Prussian Sympathy in New York: Great Mass Meeting Appointed for the 20th Instant,” New York Evening Post, July 16, 1870, 4.

[73] “City Politics: Important Action of the German Republican Central Committee,” New York Herald, May 26, 1867, 9.

[74] In original: “unstreitig in der fordersten Reihe der Koryphäen des Deutsch-Amerikanertums, an dessen machtvoller Entwicklung er so erheblich und befruchtend mitgewirkt hat.” In Memoriam, 35; and “In Honor of Hugo Wesendonck,” New York Tribune, Dec. 7, 1899, 11.

[75] In Memoriam, 23 and 35.

[76] “In Honor of Hugo Wesendonck,” 11.

[77] For examples of news coverage of celebrations and events that involved Hugo, see “The National Celebration Today,” New York Tribune, March 4, 1865, 8; “A Dinner to Mr. Oelbermann: Honored by Some of His Friends Previous to His Departure,” New York Tribune, April 29, 1890, 7; and “In Honor of Carl Schurz: Celebration of the Seventieth Anniversary of His Birth,” in New York Tribune, March 3, 1899, 10.

[78] Rapone, Guardian Life Insurance, 181.

[79] In Memoriam, 14.

[80] “Wesendonck Dead,” New York Times, December 21, 1900, 3.

[81] In Memoriam, 33.

[82] “Extract from the Report of the Superintendent,” 1878, CAGLI.

[83] “Guardian’s History,” (accessed December 27, 2015).

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  • Article Title Hugo Wesendonck
  • Coverage 1817-1900
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date June 19, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018