Woodmen of the World’s Storied History

On June 6, 1890, Joseph Cullen Root founded Woodmen of the World in a small hotel room in downtown Omaha. Root had the simple idea of making life insurance available to everyone.

We’re proud of our fraternal heritage and our long-standing history of financial strength. We're inspired by our founder’s vision of what Woodmen of the World could mean to American families, and humbled by the extraordinary organization we’ve grown to be these last 120-plus years.

Here we’d like to share highlights from each decade of Woodmen of the World’s history. You can flip through this historical montage in chronological order, or click directly on the decade that interests you the most.



Woodmen of the World’s first death claim was paid in 1891 to the mother of a 19-year-old drowning victim in Niles, Michigan.

By 1898, Woodmen of the World had more than 88,000 members from all over the country.


Woodmen of the World chapters contributed more than $13,000 to hurricane and tidal wave victims in Galveston, Texas.

In Jacksonville, Florida, member J.M. Taylor organized the first Boys of Woodcraft unit in 1903.


A new Woodmen of the World building opened in 1912 at the corner of 14th & Farnam in downtown Omaha – it was the tallest structure between Chicago and the Pacific ocean at the time.

Membership surpassed 750,000 in 1915.


The first cash refunds were paid to members in 1921, totaling $1,250,000.

Radio station WOAW made its first broadcast on April 2, 1923.


Woodmen of the World Treasurer and U.S. Senator Morris Sheppard sponsored legislation in 1934 to establish Federal Credit Unions, and Home Office associates received Credit Union Charter No. 16.

Woodmen of the World chapters donated more than $160,000 for food, clothing, medical supplies, fuel and general relief during the Depression.


On June 6, 1940, Woodmen of the World honored its 50th anniversary with a week-long celebration, including a parade, a service at founder Joseph Cullen Root’s grave and a special network radio program carried by more than 100 stations.

In 1946, Woodmen of the World’s patriotic program began. Since then, more than 2 million American flags have been presented to non-profit and community organizations.


Woodmen of the World established an award in 1953 that still recognizes conservationists and environmentalists to this day.

The slogan “The Family Fraternity” is adopted in 1958.


Woodmen of the World exceeded $1 billion of insurance in force in 1966.

The 30-story Woodmen Tower was dedicated in 1969.


Woodmen of the World reached $2 billion of insurance in force in 1970.

The Catastrophic Illness Benefit was created in 1973, which still gives financial assistance to members with leukemia, a brain tumor, lung cancer or tuberculosis.


Woodmen of the World introduced its Adjustable Life product in 1983, and in 1986 a leading consumer magazine rated it the best in the nation.

In 1986, Woodmen of the World was the first insurer to provide its entire Field Force with laptop computers.


In 1997, Woodmen of the World celebrated the 50th anniversary of the patriotic program, which in addition to presenting American flags, now includes American History Awards to middle and high school students, and American Patriot Handbooks.

Woodmen of the World and the American Red Cross formed a partnership in 1998 that led to the creation of more than 1,000 member-led Disaster Action Teams. Woodmen of the World donated more than $1 million to the Red Cross in subsequent years.


Woodmen of the World responded to the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, by creating a special tribute called In Honor and Remembrance. The memorial ceremony has been performed by thousands of members all over the nation on every 9/11 since. The fifth anniversary of the attacks was observed by two “towers of light” and two flags draped down the sides of the Woodmen Tower.

In 2002, members were introduced to Woodmen Financial Services, Inc. (WFS), a subsidiary formed to provide members a wider range of financial products, including mutual funds, variable annuities and college savings plans.

In 2004, a second subsidiary, Woodmen Insurance Agency, Inc. (WIA), was formed. WIA was created to provide members solutions to insurance needs outside Woodmen of the World offerings, including: disability and health insurance, personal insurance lines, and commercial insurance lines.

Throughout our history, Woodmen of the World has merged with five other fraternal benefit societies. The last took place in July 2001 when The Neighbors of Woodcraft became part of the Woodmen of the World family.

Recently, Woodmen of the World reached a couple of notable milestones. Total assets crossed the $9.5 billion mark, and the number of flags we have provided at no cost to schools and other non-profit organizations surpassed 2 million. In 2015, our A.M. Best rating was reaffirmed at A+ (Superior). Best ratings range from A++ (Superior) to F (Liquidation). A+ is the second-highest of 15 ratings. A.M. Best is an independent rating company that is nationally recognized for its objective reporting and rating of insurers.