John C. Johnston was a General in the local militia in New York in 1850. He worked as an agent at Mutual Life Insurance Agency of New York.
Johnston and his grandson, John H. Johnston, moved to Wisconsin and founded the Mutual Life Insurance Company of the State of Wisconsin in 1854. The company issued its first policy contracts in 1858.
The company grew and began to work regionally. To reflect this change, it was renamed Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1865. At that time, “Northwest” was used to describe states now in the Midwest.
By 1919 Northwestern Mutual was the sixth-largest insurance company in the country. By 1955, the company ranked fifth in mortgage holdings.
In 1981 the company began to invest in energy exploration and major real estate ventures.
In 1999 Northwestern Mutual acquired Frank Russell Co., an investment management and advisory firm with $40 billion in assets under management, for $1 billion.
Today Northwestern Mutual offers financial services, life insurance, long-term care insurance, disability insurance, annuities, mutual funds, and employee benefit services. The company also provides consultations on asset and income protection. Northwestern Mutual has 5,000 employees and had $23 billion in revenue in 2010.