1930 As the Great Depression gripped the nation, State Auto moved into new headquarters at 518 East Broad Street in Columbus. The contrast between the boom years of the 1920s and the economic agony that followed was dramatic. In 1929, cars were selling like hotcakes with more than 5 million in production. By 1932, production had fallen to 1.4 million, the lowest total since 1918.
1931 Despite the national economic turmoil, State Auto continued to prosper. It was at this time a young Columbus attorney named Paul R. Gingher was appointed to State Auto's board of directors. Gingher's involvement and influence at State Auto would become legendary over the following decades. Around this time, State Auto would expand from Ohio into Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee, employing more than 700 agents.
Perhaps most importantly during this very difficult time in our nation’s history, Robert Pein began decorating the home office with a lavish holiday display in hopes of spreading a bit of good cheer to the people of Columbus. From impressive rooftop Santa Claus towns, with thousands of lights and hundreds of Christmas trees, to life-size Nativity displays, this simple, heartfelt gesture gave birth to what is now an annual Christmas tradition with each year becoming a glorious celebration to outdo the last.
Mid-1930s In addition to expanding into Maryland, South Carolina and Michigan, State Auto continued to expand its product line beyond that of purely auto coverage. Early versions of homeowners insurance, plate glass and general liability coverages were also introduced. These new insurance models paid off hugely. By the mid-1930s, State Auto would have the "largest premium income from Ohio automobile owners of any insurance company in the land." It was at this time the company also launched their most aggressive marketing effort to date, the whimsical “Monkey Wagon” campaign.
1936 Ohio passed the first driver's license law, making driving more of a privilege than a right in the state. In the previous year, a financial responsibility law had gone into effect, which immediately increased the number of motorists buying liability insurance. As the decade drew to a close and the economy struggled toward normalcy, a new threat would begin to confront the nation: World War II.
At left: A State Auto newspaper ad from the 1930s. As the ad notes, State Auto was once "Ohio's largest insurer of automobiles."