Born in Ohio, Ingalls graduated from Bellefontaine High School in 1898, then attended Ohio Normal University (now Ohio Northern) in Ado, Ohio and spent 10 years as an accountant in Dayton.
In 1910, at the age of 28, Ingalls left Ohio and bought half-interest in a small machine shop in Birmingham for $5,000. The company produced ornamental iron and steel grating, fire escapes, and stairways. Ingalls purchased the remaining interest in the shop in 1911 and founded The Ingalls Iron Works. It's said he was fond of telling people he started with “one mule, a busted crane and the 26th Street viaduct for a roof."
Within three years, his company had grown to employ 45 people. He built a small plant in the Titusville community in 1914 which grew to become the base for a nationally-known iron and steel fabrication company.
Ingalls was said to be extremely cost-conscious to the point of picking up stray nuts and bolts and turning off lights in the plant after hours.
In 1951, Ingalls suffered a stroke. After a two-week battle, he died at the age of 68 following a heart attack. He left behind the fourth largest shipyard and one of the country’s biggest independent steel companies. That year, the combined Ingalls Industries grossed more than $200 million.
He was survived by his son, Robert Ingalls Jr, with whom he had feuded over the transfer of the company following the son's divorce and remarriage.
- World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, Roll 1509352
- "Family Feud" (October 6, 1952) TIME Magazine.
- Mary Ellen Lynch (March 21, 1961) "Ingalls Started Empire Making Iron Love Seats." The Dayton Daily News.
- The Ingalls Companies: Steel, Skill and Service (1978) Birmingham: Ingalls Iron Works