Safeco was founded in Seattle, Washington, in 1923 by Hawthorne K. Dent as the General Insurance Company of America, aproperty and casualty insurer. This name is still used by Safeco on some of its insurance products. Thirty years later the company founded the Selective Auto and Fire Ensurance Company of America, or SAFECO (i.e., S.A.F.E. Co.).
General Insurance's first headquarters were in downtown Seattle at the corner of University Street and Fourth Avenue. In 1936, it moved to the eight-story Brooklyn Building at the corner of N.E. 45th Street and Brooklyn Avenue N.E. in the University District.
General Insurance began to sell life insurance in 1957. Eleven years later the corporate name changed from the General Insurance Company of America to Safeco Corporation. (The company would end up changing the capitalization of its name from SAFECO to Safeco at the turn of the century.) Around the same time the company began to offer mutual funds and commercial credit (though precursors to the Safeco Funds had been around since the 1930s).
Safeco replaced the Brooklyn Building with the 22-story Safeco Plaza building in 1973. It remains the tallest building in the city outside Downtown.
In 1997, Safeco bought American States Financial Corporation to expand beyond the West Coast. Washington Mutual's WM Life Insurance Company was purchased the same year. Two years later Safeco bought R.F. Bailey (Underwriting Agencies) Limited of London.