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The Goodriches: An American Family

THE GOODRICH FAMILY of Winchester, Indiana, is perhaps the most remarkable 19th and 20th Century Midwest family that you have never heard of.  Dane Starbuck’s family biography, published in 2001, has attempted to change that.


The Goodrich family of Winchester, Indiana, 1907 (Photograph, Courtesy, Percy G. and Ann Goodrich family, Portland, Indiana)

In the winter of 1831, traveling 400 miles in two wagons from Blacksburg, Virginia, to the village of Winchester (then with a population of 75), 14 Goodrich family members settled an area that only a few years before had been the primary hunting grounds of a few thousand Delaware and Miami Indians. The land, much of it swamp and covered with trees and brush, had to be cleared and drained in order that the virgin territory could be unlocked for farming. It would prove to be some of the most fertile farm ground in the United States. But it was what was underneath the ground that would change the fortune of thousands of East Central Indiana residents in the last decades of the 19th Century, foremost the Goodrich family.

What was discovered in 1886 was the largest natural gas and oil reserves then known in the United States. The reserves covered 16 counties in East Central Indiana. It resulted in Standard Oil of New York establishing refineries in Indiana. The gas find became the source for an explosion of new companies, foremost the glass industry.  In 1880, there were four glass factories in Indiana; in 1900, there were 110 such glass factories, including what would become the largest in the nation, Ball Brothers in nearby Muncie, Indiana.

Beginning in 1887, five Goodrich brothers capitalized on the oil and gas discoveries to establish utility companies, first gas for the heating of homes and factories, then electric, water, and telephone companies. The second oldest of the five brothers, James Goodrich, would go on to be elected and serve as a towering governor of Indiana from 1917 to 1921. He was also a savvy and prescient businessman. In 1927, he foresaw the beginnings of what he believed would become an economic depression. 

As a result, he and his four brothers sold most of their utility interests in the late 1920s, keeping ownership of the banks, telephone companies, and grain companies they controlled. From the proceeds of the sales, they earned about $7 million which they deposited in banks that they owned. After the great economic depression hit in late October 1929, the brothers began buying up bankrupt or nearly bankrupt companies at pennies on the dollar. Within the decade it would make them one of the richest families in the Midwest.

By the 1960s, the fifth generation of Goodrich family members who had migrated to Indiana held a controlling or substantial interest in several banks, the largest grain operations in Indiana, the eighth largest coal company and 14th largest telephone company in the U.S., the state’s largest securities company, and one of the largest newspaper chains in the Midwest. From the sale of these businesses in the late 1960s up through 1997, a substantial portion of their wealth went to colleges and universities and other charities, including $80 million divided between the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.

“[My brother James] was an indefatigable worker and very earnest in everything he did and was one of the three greatest Governors the State ever had. . . . It is strange when there are so many school houses, roads, parks, etc. that nothing was ever named in his honor and I am not desiring to blame anyone for it. I believe it was his reticence to appear in the limelight. . . . He would organize a crowd to go someplace to have a political rally and then at the last minute would slip out to do some obscure work elsewhere.”


 - Percy E. Goodrich (older brother of James)


Goodrich Science Hall on the campus of Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana, is named after Percy E. Goodrich, one of the college’s earliest and most generous benefactors. (Photograph, Dane Starbuck, 2020)

But the largest share of their wealth, coming from Pierre F. Goodrich, son of former Governor James Goodrich, went to establish a remarkable education foundation he named Liberty Fund, Inc. Now the largest private education foundation in the United States with an endowment in excess of $400 million, it has held more than 5,000 conferences on five different continents on the ideals of individual liberty and personal responsibility. It does this by exploring these seminal ideas through a deeper understanding of history, philosophy, economics, law, political theory, and other disciplines. Some of the most eminent scholars in the U.S. and abroad, including nine Nobel Prize laureates, have participated in Liberty Fund conferences.  

In addition, the foundation publishes classical works of scholars such as John Locke, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, and David Hume and hosts and maintains four award winning websites and podcasts.

Author’s Note:  Beginning in August 1991, Dane Starbuck traveled to Iowa, next to California, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C. and throughout much of Indiana to conduct research at archives and libraries and to interview individuals who knew the Goodrich family. He interviewed or corresponded with 120 individuals in the United States and abroad, including Nobel Prize Laureates Milton Friedman and James Buchanan, former Indiana Governors Otis Bowen and Edgar Whitcomb, former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, publisher Henry Regnery, scholars Russel Kirk, Henry Manne, D. Elton Trueblood, Hans Sennholz, and Stephen Tonsor, and businessman and philanthropist Lovett Peters. The research resulted in publication of The Goodriches: an American Family by Liberty Fund, Inc. in 2001. Liberty Fund was founded by one of the more prominent members of the family, Pierre F. Goodrich. Dane was subsequently invited to join the board of directors of Liberty Fund in 2004 and remains active today as a director.

Book preface:  James M. Buchanan, Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, 1986 

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