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Colonel Harland Sanders, Gene Simmons, Charles Ives & Homer Plessy – What do they all have in common?

The answer: they all sold life insurance at some point in their life.

Before becoming a fried chicken mogul at age 65, Colonel Harland Sanders worked as an insurance salesman for Prudential. According to the book “Colonel Sanders and the American Dream”, being new to the business, he was given the worst territory in Indiana, occupied by the poorest residents and the most deadbeats. Through sheer perseverance, he was able to head up his own district in just one year. After he realized how the commission process worked, however, he refused to comply and was fired.  He went to Louisville, KY and got another insurance salesman job for Mutual Benefit Life of New Jersey. Though again a huge success, he realized it was not for him and he decided to start a ferryboat company. Finally, when this didn’t work out, Kentucky Fried Chicken was born. By the early 1960s there were more than 600 franchises and he sold the franchising operation in 1964 for $2 million.

Kiss co-founder Gene Simmons certainly does not need to generate extra income, but nonetheless he sells health insurance.  He’s passionate about protecting the estates of the wealthy. Simmons is co-founder of Tennessee-based Cool Springs Life Equity Strategy – they specialize in providing life insurance for high net-worth individuals in a way that minimizes estate taxes.  Who doesn’t like to save taxes? According to Simmons, “Life insurance is a must. It’s the one thing in your life you are doing for everybody else. Once you are dead, you really don’t care, but while you are alive it is the one big, selfless thing you should be doing. And you should try to maximize the amount of money that you leave behind to your family, your loved ones and whoever else you deem.”

Cool Springs provides life insurance policies of $10M or greater for people who are worth at least $20M – wow.  And of course, Simmons is the face of the company, appearing on several cable news and business networks promoting the company. He built the agency into a very successful enterprise, devising creative ways to structure life insurance packages for wealthy people. He achieved considerable notoriety in the industry in 1918 after publishing a book, “Life Insurance with Relation to Inheritance Tax,” which laid the foundation for the modern practice of estate planning and was considered “the Bible of estate planning” at the time. His insurance industry peers were often surprised to learn he was also a composer. 

You may not recognize the name Charles Ives. He was a modernist composer – the first American composer to gain international renown in fact.  If you are keenly in tune with insurance history, then you will also know that he was a pioneer in the field of estate planning. In 1898, Ives as a clerk with the Mutual Life Insurance Company. He went on to form his own insurance agency in 1906 with friend Julian Myrick called Ives & Myrick.

Long after Homer Plessy was at the center of the US Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson he sold life insurance for the People’s Life Insurance Company.

Plessy was the American Creole plaintiff in the case, who was arrested, tried and convicted in New Orleans of a violation of one of Louisiana’s racial segregation laws. In a calculated effort to strike down segregation laws, he was recruited in 1982 by the Citizens’ Committee of New Orleans to intentionally violate the state’s separate rail car law. The case was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Plessy lost in 1896, but the resulting “separate but equal” decision had wide consequences for civil rights in the United States for decades. The Supreme Court eventually overturned the doctrine in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, and it was later outlawed completely by the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After the 1896 decision, Plessy faded from public view and lived a normal life, fathering children while continuing in religious and social activities in his community. It was during his later years that he sold life insurance and collected premiums for the People’s Life Insurance Company. He died in 1925 at the age of 61. A bronze plaque on the Plessy Tomb in New Orleans commemorates his place in history, and Plessy Park is located at the intersection of the two streets where Plessy refused to move to a segregated passenger railcar.