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Slideshow: 6 famous brands started or saved by life insurance

If not for life insurance, Disneyland might have existed only in Walt’s imagination. Stanford University might have been a short-lived tribute to a son who died young. James Cash Penney’s personal depression during the Great Depression might have shuttered the J.C. Penney chain. McDonald’s might have only served a few hundred thousand. Today’s home chefs might not be getting pampered.

Check out this slide show to learn how life insurance played a key role in either the creation or survival of some iconic American institutions.



Walt Disney Studio was founded in 1923 in Los Angeles by Walt Disney (1901-1966) and his brother Roy. After a distributor essentially stole one of his early cartoon characters and his animators, Walt made sure he owned everything he made after that. Mickey Mouse debuted in 1928 and became an immediate sensation as the star of the first cartoon with synchronized sound.



Working as a milkshake machine distributor in 1954, Ray Kroc (1902-1984) took notice of a successful hamburger stand in San Bernardino, Calif., which he called on, intending to sell brothers Dick and Mac McDonald more Multimixers. He learned they were interested in a nationwide franchising agent. Kroc, 52 at the time, decided his future was in hamburgers and partnered with the brothers. He opened his first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Ill., in 1955 and bought out the McDonald brothers in 1961.


Stanford University

Pacific Mutual Life (now Pacific Life) ceremoniously issued its first policy to Leland Stanford, the company's first president, in 1868. After his son, Leland Jr., died of Typhoid Fever in 1884 at the age of 15, the former California governor and U.S. senator and his wife, Jane L. Stanford, determined that because they could no longer do anything for their own child, they would use their wealth to do something for other people’s children. With a strong belief in the importance of a practical education for men and women that would prepare them to be productive and successful, six years of planning led them to establish Leland Stanford Jr. University in Palo Alto in 1891, with a pioneer class of 555 students (including Herbert Hoover).

J.C. Penney

J.C. Penney

In 1898, James Cash Penney was working in a Golden Rule Store, part of a small chain of dry goods stores. He was such an enterprising worker that the pair of owners took him under their wing, offering him a one-third partnership in a new store they were opening in Kemmerer, Wyo. Penney participated in opening two more stores, and when the original partners dissolved their partnership in 1907, Penney purchased full interest in all three stores. By 1912, he operated 34 stores throughout the Rocky Mountain region. In 1913, he moved the company to Salt Lake City and incorporated it as the J.C. Penney Company. By 1929, there were 1,400 stores across the country.

Pampered Chef

The Pampered Chef

Using $3,000 she borrowed from a life insurance policy, home economist Doris Christopher started The Pampered Chef in her suburban Chicago home in 1980.

Foster Farms

Foster Farms

In 1939, a young couple named Max and Verda Foster started Foster Farms by borrowing $1,000 against a life insurance policy. They invested in an 80-acre farm near Modesto, Calif., and began raising turkeys and, eventually, chickens.

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Nichole Morford

Nichole Morford
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