The Prudential and the Rock

In 1848 the Prudential or ‘the Pru’ was set up in London and came to concentrate on life insurance and a means of saving for professional people and, later on, for the poorer working classes who would pay weekly amounts to agents. It is now a multinational life insurance and financial services company.

In America John Fairfield Dryden lost his father when a young boy. As a result of his experiences, he set up an insurance company at Newark, New Jersey, in 1875, based on the principles and name of the Prudential in London. This new company was called the Prudential Friendly Society and sold industrial insurance to help American working families provide against sickness, accident and death. The company’s history is told in a fascinating book published in 1950 by Doubleday – The Prudential: a story of human security by Earl Chapin May and Will Oursler. Its jacket depicts the iconic northern part of the Rock of Gibraltar.

Cover of 1950 book called ‘The Prudential, a story of human security’

by Earl Chapin May and Will Oursler

The business struggled, and so in late 1876 Dryden went to London to seek advice on how the business operated in England. As a result, the Prudential Friendly Society was refounded on 15th March 1877 as The Prudential Insurance Company of America, which rapidly prospered and expanded in scope. In the 1890s Dryden was looking for a new slogan and symbol, and Mortimer Remington from the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency in New York came up with the idea. He devised a symbol based on Gibraltar, because a century after the Great Siege, it was still the most famous fortress in the world. Remington also added the slogan ‘The Prudential has the Strength of Gibraltar’.

 

The Prudential symbol in 1931, with the image of the Rock

bearing the words ‘The Prudential has the Strength of Gibraltar’

May and Oursler explain how Gibraltar became a familiar symbol the length and breadth of the United States:

“The campaign which introduced the symbol was one of the first great advertising campaigns in the nation. Through magazine advertisements, newspapers, posters, and direct mail, it made Prudential and the Rock of Gibraltar synonymous words in virtually every home in the land. It has continued to be known as one of the great business symbols of the world.”

That was written in 1950, but what is remarkable is that even today Prudential uses a symbol based on the Rock. The advertising agency is also still in existence – J. Walter Thompson (JWT) has been part of the vast WPP Group since 1987.

For the story of the Great Siege, see our book Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History.

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