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Great American's roots go back to the 1800's with the founding of Great American Insurance Company in 1872, based in New York City. The company symbol was an eagle. The company's first policy was written on March 19, 1872. Through the remainder of the 1800's, Great American continued to grow and attract more agents. Great American entered the twentieth century as one of the most respected and financially stable companies in America with an excellent reputation for paying claims.

Great American's extraordinary strength enabled it, like the rest of the country, to weather the hard years of the Great Depression. New legislation cleared the way for multiple-line operations and Great American began to write both property and casualty policies. Great American grew steadily in the 1950s and by the early 60s, had assets exceeding $450 million with 11 major offices in the United States and Canada. In 1968, Great American was acquired by National General Corporation and became a subsidiary of a conglomerate holding an eclectic mix of properties that included motion pictures, publishing, computer technology and fast food. It left its home of 94 years and moved to Los Angeles.

Halfway in between New York and LA, a skilled businessman in Cincinnati was becoming interested in the property and casualty industry that Great American had always served. Asked by the Ohio Insurance Department to come to the financial aid of a floundering local carrier, Carl H. Lindner was introduced to a line of business that intrigued him. Five years later, in 1973, Lindner merged his own American Financial Corporation with National General to acquire majority ownership of Great American. In the transitional year that followed, he pared National General's holdings down to only the insurance operations and moved their headquarters into his own town, Cincinnati, Ohio. Under the Lindner family's leadership, Great American focused its market presence as a specialty insurer and became the flagship company of American Financial.

In the late 1950s Great American established a life insurance operation, Great American Life Insurance Company. Great American Life began marketing insurance products in 1959 and, over the years, became a leader in providing retirement annuities to the education market. Great American Financial Resources, Inc., formerly American Annuity Group, was formed in 1992 as the holding company for the annuity and life insurance operations of American Financial. Great American Financial Resources has diversified itself over the years and today is a wholly owned subsidiary of American Financial. Its subsidiaries offer a broad range of products, including annuities, life, supplemental health and long-term care insurance products.

Over the years, American Financial divested certain business interests and acquired significant interests in numerous businesses, including American Premier Underwriters, Inc. (formerly The Penn Central Corporation), a former New York Stock Exchange listed public company . American Financial was a major shareholder of American Premier and Carl Lindner was named to its Board of Directors in 1982. In 1983, he became Chairman of the Board and was made Chief Executive Officer in 1987, the same year that American Premier's headquarters moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. Under the Lindner family leadership, American Premier made a number of strategic acquisitions and divestitures in order to focus on property and casualty insurance businesses. In 1989, American Premier acquired Republic Indemnity of America, which writes workers' compensation insurance principally in California, and in the early 1990s, it purchased a group of auto insurance companies (Atlanta Casualty Companies, Windsor Group, Infinity Group and Leader Group).

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