The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

February 21, 2019

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Goodrich, Pierre
Morgan N. Knull - 09/23/11
Lifespan: (1894–1973)

An industrialist and philanthropist, Pierre F. Goodrich was the founder of Liberty Fund, Inc., an educational foundation “established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.” Born in 1894 in Winchester, Indiana, Goodrich attended Wabash College and Harvard Law School before establishing an Indianapolis law practice. Goodrich’s father James had been governor of Indiana and a successful businessman. In the late 1930s, Pierre assumed control of family investments, ultimately becoming chairman of the Indiana Telephone Company, Peoples Loan and Trust, Ayrshire Collieries Corporation, and other industrial concerns.

Although less politically active than his father, Pierre Goodrich was a patron of cultural and educational causes. He served as a trustee of the Great Books Foundation, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, China Institute of America, Intercollegiate Society of Îndividualists, Foundation for Economic Education, and Institute for Humane Studies. He inherited his father’s seat on the Wabash College Board of Trustees in 1940 and served continuously until 1969.

In 1959, Goodrich dedicated a remarkable seminar room in Wabash College’s library. A timeline reflecting the development of liberty is carved into high limestone walls that ring the room, and bookshelves underneath hold classic literary and philosophical works selected by Goodrich. “The education here available discards all of the formalized concepts of education, such as courses and departments in this and that,” he later explained. “It simply makes available an opportunity to read and think, check, explore, observe, and discuss. It is only the individual who accomplishes his education.”

After World War II, Goodrich established two grant-making foundations, the Winchester Foundation and Thirty Five Twenty, to more directly support educational and libertarian endeavors. In 1960 he incorporated Liberty Fund, Inc., which became his primary philanthropic vehicle. Guided by a 129-page “Basic Memorandum” authored by Goodrich, Liberty Fund served as a grant-making foundation in the 1960s and 1970s until the Internal Revenue Service formally classified it as an operating foundation in 1979.

Although not an academic philosopher, Goodrich expounded on the topics of education and politics he had addressed in Liberty Fund’s “Basic Memorandum” in a later “Education Memorandum” (1951) and in a 1958 presentation in which he cautioned fellow Mont Pelerin Society members that “there is no middle road between freedom and statism.” Nobel economic laureate Milton Friedman remembers Goodrich: “He had thought deeply about philosophical issues and was a convinced libertarian who believed in minimal government.”

Introspective and eccentric, Goodrich was a tireless apostle for liberty and reasoned inquiry. He once took a month-long retreat to read Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action (1949). Combining business acumen with intellectual curiosity, Goodrich reached out to all manner of people—from leading statesmen to his telephone company employees—to discuss liberty. He died in Indianapolis in 1973, but not before instructing his assistants to send books to hospital nurses whom he had engaged in Socratic conversation.

Further Reading
  • Liberty Fund. The Goodrich Seminar Room at Wabash College: An Explication. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 2000.
  • ———. Why Liberty? A Collection of Liberty Fund Essays. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 2000.
  • Starbuck, Dane. The Goodriches: An American Family. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 2001.
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