1864 was a year when our country experienced numerous events of historical significance. We were in the midst of the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln was re-elected for his second term as President. In Poughkeepsie, Vassar College was under construction to be officially opened in 1865, and Joseph H. Marshall, a manufacturer of carriages and sleighs decided to expand his business activities and sell insurance. This last event was the birth of an organization that was destined to grow and survive for more than 150 years and become one of the nation’s leading insurance organizations.
In the late 1890’s after more than 30 years in the insurance business and then past 70 years of age Mr. Marshall began experiencing health problems and decided to look for someone to carry on the business. He made an arrangement with 34 year old Graham L. Sterling who he occasionally went fishing with and who was working in a sporting goods store across the street from his office to join him in 1898 and formed a partnership, Marshall & Sterling “to engage in the business of Insurance and Real Estate”.
The Smith Era
A graduate of Columbia University, Charles Hoyt Smith, Sr., had a special talent for drafting and was very good at drawing plot plans of insured properties to be part of the files. He and Mr. Sterling became good friends and in 1920, decided to make an offer of $15,000 to purchase the agency including its four desks, typewriters, filing cabinets, etc. The offer was accepted and Mr. Smith then formed Marshall & Sterling, Inc., as he felt the name was familiar to customers and insurance companies. At that time, the firm had two employees in addition to Mr. Smith and was still located on the third floor of the Poughkeepsie Trust Co. building at 236 Main Street. Mr. Smith continued the business for the next several years until his unexpected death in 1931 at the age of 52. At that time ownership was passed on to his family.
A New Beginning
The 1930’s were a very difficult period for the agency, which at that time was quite small and struggled to remain profitable. The modern day Marshall & Sterling began following World War II when in January 1946, Mr. Smith, then an Army Captain, returned to civilian life. It became apparent to him that to be successful the company had to add new talent in order to broaden its expertise. In 1949, Edward F. Kenealyn became Vice President of the firm. Mr. Kenealy had worked with several large insurance brokerage firms in New York and California and brought a great deal of experience to Marshall & Sterling. He was to remain with the firm for over 30 years until his retirement in December 1979 at 68 years of age.
Growing By Leaps & Bounds
As a result of this additional talent joining Mr. Smith, the company began a period of steady growth. During the 1960’s and 1970's, the agency moved their main office several times to accommodate additional staff. In 1976, Mr. Smith reached 65 years of age and began to plan his retirement. Since he had no family members in the business he had to find a purchaser for the company. After exploring several options he and Mr. O’Shea decided to take advantage of a new type of employee benefit program that had recently received government approval. It was called the Employee Stock Ownership Plan. The company also made several key acquisitions.
Broadening Our Services
Marshall & Sterling continued to grow, nearly all of our branches moving to larger and more modern locations. New technology, updates to networking and systems, created better connections between us and our clients. The company continued to garner national acclaim. The national publication Business Insurance ranked Marshall & Sterling the top 100 agencies by its size. Based upon the information published in 2017, Marshall & Sterling is now among the top 25 privately-owned agencies in the nation.
An Eye to the Future
Today Marshall & Sterling has over 36 locations in New York, California, Florida, Michigan, Virginia and the U.S. Virgin Islands staffed by more than 550 employees. As we celebrate over 150 years of existence with revenues of over $100,000,000, we are all proud of our many accomplishments and continue to be committed to following the path laid out by our leadership over those many years.