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A century ago, on April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I. Many of our companies and leaders were impacted by the conflict but none more than Asher Miner, president of what would become Penn Millers Insurance Company (lead insurer of Chubb Agribusiness today) as well as a colonel in the U.S. Army. This is his story.
Asher Miner was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., in 1860. (At right, a cartoonist's rendering of Miner from a Wilkes-Barre newspaper in 1923.) He entered the family business of flour milling, but in 1884 also enlisted as a private in the Pennsylvania National Guard. He rose quickly in both fields, to head of the family firm and colonel in the U.S. Army, including service in the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Miner soon entered a new fray. Penn Millers, then called Pennsylvania Millers Mutual Fire Insurance Company, was a small insurer of flour mills formed in Huntingdon, Pa., in 1887. In the “Controversy of 1902,” directors ousted founding president B.F. Isenberg, replacing him with Miner; they also proposed moving the firm from Huntingdon to Wilkes-Barre. A battle of letters to policyholders ensued, and it took to 1904 to muster a two-thirds majority to ratify relocation. In 1906, Miner oversaw an equally notable vote by the fire insurer to “branch out and insure other classes of risks” besides mills. This started the company on its path to the agribusiness specialist of today.
Meanwhile, Miner also assumed command of the Guard’s 9th Infantry Regt. in 1907 but retired in 1912. The threat of U.S. entry in the war in Europe, however, drew him back in March 1916, at age 55. He recommended that the regiment be converted to field artillery, which occurred in August. After responding to a crisis along the Mexican border, the unit returned home in March 1917.
With war declared, the unit reorganized as the 109th Field Artillery Regt. and set off for France in May 1918. On Oct. 4, during the Meuse-Argonne campaign, Miner achieved his greatest fame, as the U.S. War Dept. later wrote, “One of the batteries of the regiment… was heavily shelled by the enemy while it was going into action. It being necessary…to take another position, Col. Miner went forward under heavy shell-fire and personally supervised the placing of the guns…Col. Miner continued his efforts until he received a severe wound that necessitated the amputation of his leg.”
Peace came on Nov. 11. On Dec. 22, the War Dept. issued Miner the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) and he returned home. In a ceremony on April 3, 1919, Miner’s wife Hetty was given the honor of decorating him with the medal. (See image at left, with Miner flanked by Maj. Gen. Thomas Barry and Hetty Miner.) A Wilkes-Barre newspaper claimed that it was the first time in U.S. history that a woman officially decorated an officer with the DSC.
When Miner retired for good in 1923, it was as a major general. He remained president of Penn Millers until his death on Sept. 2, 1924. Wilkes-Barre dedicated a park in his honor in 1933, evidence that there, as at his company, his service would not be forgotten.