The questions I ask myself from time to time are: What is the Ingersoll Milling Machine Company doing with its own philanthropic organization? What does Ingersoll have to do with philanthropy at all? We are engaged in a highly technical international machinery business, which is extremely demanding because of surging technology, because there are competitors from all over the world for the customers upon which we depend, and because, by the unalterable nature of our products, we sell our wares in markets that swing between boom and bust. This requires a very high degree of investment in money and in people’s lifetime commitments. We at Ingersoll are preoccupied with the task of being better than our competitors in order to survive. Where does philanthropy come in?

The answer is straightforward. We are in the business of giving away money because our government passed laws that put all of industry in the philanthropy business. We are a private company, with a very small number of stockholders. Before any dividends can be paid to the owners, our largest stockholder, the U.S. government, demands its dividend, which is many times the amount of dividend the owners have ever taken from the company.

As you know, a company can make charitable gifts before it pays taxes, but this advantage turns into a disadvantage if the owners make their own gifts from their dividends after taxes. Every dollar of support from a company is worth a dollar, but this is not true of the same dollars of support from the individuals who own the company. This is a poor reason for America’s industrial companies to engage in activities remote from their proper business, but that is what has happened. This is how the Ingersoll Foundation came into being, and while our foundation bears little resemblance to its counterparts, like the Rockefeller or MacArthur foundations, its reason for being is the same.

Perhaps a more difficult question to answer is how the Ingersoll Foundation got involved with the Ingersoll Prizes. How does a hard-hitting commercial enterprise with plenty of problems of its own find itself supporting prizes for creative literature and scholarly letters?

When the Ingersoll Foundation was first formed and when it first had money in its coffers, the chief executive and principal shareholder of Ingersoll was Robert Gaylord, who was a great champion of freedom, capitalism, and the United States of America. He anguished over the growing popularity of the false claims made by liberal opponents of capitalism. The Ingersoll Foundation, under his leadership, sponsored and conducted a series of meetings extending over several years in which we met with Ingersoll employees, members of the Rockford community, and other guests to examine the benefits of the capitalistic system against the claims of its opponents, as well as the source and nature of man’s individual rights. The program was unique in that we did not set out to influence a great number of people we did not know (and who did not know us) as to the virtues of the capitalistic system; rather, we explored these critical issues with friends. The results were impressive, and a sizable group of people increased their knowledge of the free-market system and thus improved their ability to influence others.

The disappointment came from the fact that while this was going on, it became clear that economic understanding of the free system would not, by itself, insure the future of a free society and its free markets. All around, there was a change in values and in the behavior of Americans. We became more and more aware that the real issues had more to do with morality. The Ingersoll company cannot be successful in other than a free-market economy; neither can it be successful if the people who work for the company are not trustworthy and cooperative, do not have pride in work well done, and are not self-reliant and willing to submit to the rules and standards of our society.

It was then we asked the Rockford Institute for advice on how our foundation might help to reverse cultural trends and to reestablish, in some way, integrity, self-discipline, and cooperation as respected norms. Of all the ways that a people are molded in their behavior, we chose books. I do not believe I have to defend this choice with this group, but it is clear that if people are going to change behavioral patterns, this will not come about from newspaper articles or television spots. The rethinking of life’s priorities is far more apt to be stimulated and guided by books of wisdom. Books are not dusty volumes on a library shelf; they are the most powerful opinionmakers in the world, and they are forever there for those who seek the truth. And so it was our decision that we would find a way to honor those who have written profound truths about the values that society must cherish to remain free.

We were awed by the prospect of such a long-term effort. The only reason strong enough to induce the decision we made was the conviction that our culture is in trouble, that the very existence of our free society is dependent on reversing its moral decline, and that the most enduring and powerful way to influence thought is in books. Indeed, we were so awed by the prospect of such an endeavor whose long-term results can probably never be measured that we decided to state our purpose as simply as possible and then get on with it. Only after ten years does it now seem appropriate to add anything to our statement of purpose.

Many of you have been here to see the Ingersoll Prizes awarded year after year. You are all the best judges of whether the efforts of the Ingersoll Foundation have been beneficial. The literary world has treated the past recipients of the Ingersoll Prizes with great honor; perhaps through these awards we have had some part in influencing other skilled spokesmen of our age to write of human virtue. If so, our work has been successful.