History of the Des Moines’ iconic Travelers umbrella sign

Editor’s note: This story by Elizabeth Clarkson Zwart was originally published in the Des Moines Tribune in February 1964, about three months after the Travelers umbrella was first erected.

When Ned. G. Kendall of the Travelers Insurance Companies threw a switch on the roof of the Insurance Exchange Building on the evening of Nov. 1, 1963, a huge red umbrella – 50 feet wide and 40 ½ feet tall – opened on the Des Moines skyline.

The umbrella – the tip of which turns the 10-story building into a 14-story building – is a neon sign.

It’s the largest neon sign in Iowa; and there isnt another like it in the world.

Not yet…

From 1964: Downtown Des Moines' iconic Travelers sign as it looked when it was first built in 1963. It still shines each night from atop the Insurance Exchange Building, at the corner of Fifth Street and Grand Avenue.

The idea for displaying the big insurance group’s nationally known trademarks high in the sky originated in the Des Moines offices.

“And the national office went right along!” they say. (I think this means the men at national headquarters didn’t turn pale when told that a big red neon umbrella would cost several thousand dollars.)

Now, since the big sign has been so well received, local company representatives wouldn’t be a bit surprised if others should open on other rooftops across the country.