By Amy Wight Chapman
This Saturday, Jan. 2, marks the 240th anniversary of the raising of the first U.S. flag by George Washington, in Cambridge, Mass.
Alaska was admitted into the union as a state on Jan. 3, 1959.
These anniversaries, and many other snippets of historical data, are noted on the 2016 calendar distributed by the W.J. Wheeler Insurance Agency to its customers.
The iconic wall calendar, with its red and blue ink and familiar graphics, has been a fixture in homes and businesses throughout western Maine for generations.
“I grew up with this calendar,” said Donita St. John of South Paris. “Our home was not a home without a W.J. Wheeler calendar.”
“The calendars are produced by Geiger Co. out of Lewiston and always have been,” said Curtis Cole.
A fourth-generation descendant of company founder William J. Wheeler, Cole has been with the agency since 1982.
Geiger is the long-time producer of the Farmers’ Almanac, and the W.J. Wheeler calendar also features almanac data and weather predictions.
For example: January’s full moon this year will occur on the 23rd day of the month.
January 1-3 should be fair and cold in the northeast.
Expect a “coast-hugging storm” along the Atlantic seaboard to bring wet and unsettled weather between the 24th and 27th.
Cole estimated that the company has been handing out the calendar in its current format for at least 60 years.
“Previous to this, there were other calendars, but no single iconic one,” he said.
He provided a photo of a calendar the agency distributed a century ago, in 1916.
Produced for the Fidelity-Phenix Fire Insurance Company, it depicts a painting by Massachusetts commercial artist Griswold Tyng of a rough-and-tumble football game. The Fidelity-Phenix logo appears in the background of the painting.
“I think it speaks to the universality of calendars and advertising going back centuries,” Cole said.
This year, W.J. Wheeler turned its distribution of the annual calendar into a way to way to help out local food pantries, asking customers to donate a non-perishable food item at either the South Paris or Bethel office in exchange for a calendar.
Bookkeeper Janet Fournier said the agency is always looking for ways to give back to the community.
W.J. Wheeler teams participate in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Bowl-a-thon each year, and in November several employees ran a 5k race to fundraise in support of youth sports.
Employees from the South Paris office recently volunteered at the free community lunch at the Norway Unitarian Universalist Church, and purchased Christmas gifts for a local family.
Staff in the Bethel office shopped for items for Christmas for Families, and those in both locations helped with end-of-season clean-up for the Edible Main Street project.
“We’re trying to get out there into the community and let people know that we’re a small, local business that is willing to do what we can to help out,” Fournier said.
An insurance company tradition
The tradition of insurance company calendars dates back to the 19th century, when Hartford, Connecticut became known as “the insurance capital of the world” and its many insurance companies, including Travelers, Aetna, and The Hartford, began issuing calendars to their employees and customers at Christmas.
Handing out a calendar at the holidays not only built goodwill among customers, but also kept the company logo (and, frequently, contact information) perpetually posted on their walls.
Perhaps the most well-known of insurance company calendars is one featuring Currier and Ives prints, distributed annually since 1936 by the Travelers Insurance Company. Its popularity prompted the company to make the current calendar available for sale on line in recent years.
The appeal of vintage insurance company calendars continues, with hundreds bought and sold each year on eBay and other websites featuring antiques and collectibles.
While the plainer W.J. Wheeler calendar may not have the same visual appeal as some other advertising calendars, for many of the agency’s customers, it’s the one they want on their walls.
“[Curtis] knows if he doesn’t come by and bring me my calendar, I’m not going to be happy,” said St. John. “In this world where everything is changing so much, I really respect the fact that this is one thing that hasn’t changed.”
Roger Wilday, president of Ledgeview Living Center, said that each year, W.J. Wheeler supplies the nursing home with calendars for the residents’ rooms.
“Our residents like them because of the big numbers on them” which can be read easily, he said.
For St. John, the annual W.J. Wheeler calendar is a reflection of the company that distributes it—steadfast and reliable.
“From my first car until now, I wouldn’t have my insurance through anyone but W.J. Wheeler,” she said, adding that she is “kind of old-fashioned” and believes that a company’s good service should earn loyalty from its customers.
“I’m very old-school,” St. John said. “My calendar is a part of my household—I couldn’t keep house without it.”