New Jersey Manufacturers’ original headquarters building at 175 West State Street in Trenton. The company was located there between 1920 and 1947.

New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company celebrates its centenial on June 7.

By Natalie Kouba

The New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company was initially run out of two small rooms at the American Mechanic Building in Trenton 100 years ago.

Today, however, the company, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this month, has expanded to three separate locations, including its Ewing-based headquarters, and insures more than 810,000 automobiles, 280,000 homeowners and 7,000 businesses in New Jersey

In addition, NJM employs about 2,500 residents from surrounding counties, such as Mercer, Hunterdon, Burlington and Bucks, including some 200 employees from Ewing.

“NJM is a major employer, a good corporate citizen and an economic engine for Ewing,” said Patrick Breslin, company spokesman and director of legislative affairs, addign that it also helps fund the Ewing police and fire departments as well as the public schools.

Currently, the company is taking several steps to celebrate its centennial on June 7. One of its main events is a V.I.P. reception on the evening of its anniversary, expected to be attended by public officials, major policy holders and business partners.

NJM also opened a museum in January featuring artifacts from the company’s past. Although it is in a fairly small room, there are many photographs, documents created by the company founders, minutes from board meetings, old telephones and the desk of a former company president.

The company is also sending out emails detailing the history of the company to encourage awareness of the upcoming milestone. In a series of 12 chapters, the company has developed a story that tracks a fictional insurance company and its relationship with NJM.

The fictional company is designed to portray a typical New Jersey insurance company, while the historic information about NJM in the collection of stories is accurate, according to the website.

NJM is a founding sponsor of the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey’s Champion Schools.

The program encourages high school students to create their own campaigns about safe driving. The winning schools receive two driving simulators for their school driving program.

“The concept was that a message being received from another teenager may be more effective than the same message coming from an adult or teachers,” Breslin said.

Safety, Breslin stressed, has always been in the company’s origins.

Before 1911, it was assumed that employees understood the risks that came with their often dangerous factory jobs. There were fewer options for both workers and their employers at the time, often resulting in costly negligence lawsuits for both sides.

After the establishment of the workers’ compensation law in 1911, the relationship between companies and its employees were redefined. Regardless of fault, the employees now received benefits if injured on the job, while companies no longer had reason to fear large lawsuit settlements in the wake of an accident.

NJM was founded soon after in 1913 on the basis of providing workers compensation for New Jersey businesses.

During the first two or three years of the company, he explained, NJM established a safety engineering area. The company had skilled workers examine factories and point out the flaws in procedures and physical work spaces that could potentially cause accidents.

NJM’s initial goal was to create safe working conditions and reduce the frequency of injury, according to the company’s history website. The company has also prided itself on its ability to return dividends to policyholders each year since 1918. Even through difficult times, such as the Great Depression, the company distributed dividends, the first totaling $21,280 and accumulating since then to over $5.1 billion.

During World War I the manufacturing business in New Jersey expanded, placing higher demand on insurance companies.

NJM treated injured workers at clinics in industrial centers in Newark, Clifton, Trenton and Jersey City starting in 1921. Although these clinics were sold in the 1970s when the industrial environment in New Jersey switched from manufacturing to a service-based company, it continued to serve its purpose of providing medical attention to workers at the time.

After World War II, about 20 percent of all workmen’s compensation premiums were distributed by NJM.

To facilitate the frequent expansions of customers, the company relocated to 363 West State St. in 1947 under company president, Frank E. Driscoll. In 1961, its first North New Jersey Branch office in East Orange was established.

In 1965, the Indemnity Insurance Company merged with the Casualty Insurance Company, forming today’s New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company.

NJM relocated its home office to its current location on Sullivan Way in West Trenton in 1967 to accommodate its growing staff and business.

In 2011, NJM held a delayed grand opening for the Hammonton office due to ongoing expansion projects. The office itself was opened in 2000.

In all of the company’s history, the largest incident it has ever had to deal with was Hurricane Sandy, according to Breslin.

NJM anticipated the strong impact of Hurricane Sandy and prepared by making sure the company would be up and running by adding generators throughout the facility.

Many of its employees from various departments were cross-trained to take claims from policyholders. They also worked with an outside vendor based out of Kentucky who accepted claims for the company.

“On a typical day, we would receive about 800 calls, and 40 claims. And in the wake of Hurricane Sandy we were receiving 1,000 (calls) an hour,” Breslin said. In total, NJM received about 55,000 claims during Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately, 98 percent of those claims have already been closed.