In 1802, E.I. du Pont establishes a new business in a new nation and lays the foundation for an industrial dynasty.
DuPont becomes a modern, diversified chemical company and undergoes a major reorganization.
The new DuPont commitment to basic scientific research survives the Great Depression to yield phenomenal results in synthetic rubber and textiles.
DuPont makes key contributions to Allied victory in World War II, widens its product offerings to post-war consumers and struggles with antitrust charges and larger social and economic tensions.
DuPont engages the energy and environmental crises of the 1970s, enters the energy business and expands its presence in the electronics and pharmaceuticals fields.
DuPont completes a sweeping restructuring, divests its energy business and draws on biotechnology to realize a new vision of sustainable growth in its third century.
1802 E.I. DuPont
Eleuthère Irénée (E.I.) du Pont (1771-1834) broke ground on July 19, 1802, for the company that bears his name. He had studied advanced explosives production techniques with the famous chemist Antoine Lavoisier. He used this knowledge and his intense interest in scientific exploration–which became the hallmark of his company–to continually enhance product quality and manufacturing sophistication and efficiency. He earned a reputation for high quality, fairness and concern for workers’ safety.
E.I. du Pont was the younger of two sons born to Paris watchmaker Pierre Samuel du Pont who, by the 1780s, had become a noted political economist, a rising government official, and an advocate of free trade. At age 14, E.I. wrote a paper on the manufacture of gunpowder and, with his father’s assistance, gained a position at France’s central powder agency. There he had studied advanced explosives production techniques with the famous chemist Antoine Lavoisier. In 1791, after the onset of the French Revolution, he gave up powder-making to assist in his father’s small printing and publishing business. The du Ponts’ moderate political views proved a liability in revolutionary France. In 1797 a mob ransacked their printing shop and they were briefly imprisoned. In late 1799 they fled to America.
When he arrived in America in January 1800, E.I. brought much more than powder-making expertise and capital raised from French investors. He had spent several years studying botany and he shared his father’s ideals about scientific advancement and creating a harmonious relationship between capital and labor.
E.I. du Pont returned to France only once – in 1801 – to raise additional capital and to buy the latest powder-making equipment. He broke ground for his first powder mills on the Brandywine River on July 19, 1802. He spent the remainder of his life keeping them, going through explosions, floods, financial straits, pressures from nervous stockholders, and labor difficulties.
Although his personal reputation for honesty and renown for his company’s product eventually brought success, du Pont never relaxed his vigilance. E.I. was a pillar of the community, contributing to causes such as poor relief, help for the blind, and free public education. He was a Director of the Farmers Bank of the State of Delaware and the Second Bank of the United States. He was also an inventor and a gentleman scientist. E.I.’s wife, Sophie Dalmas du Pont, died in 1828. Three years later the American painter, Rembrandt Peale, captured the powderman’s sense of loss and the strain of constant worry about his company. In the fall of 1834, E.I. collapsed from heart failure while in Philadelphia on business. He died the next day, October 31, and was buried in the family cemetery along the Brandywine.PrevNext
1802 Wilmington, Delaware
"I have bought property on Brandywine Creek near Wilmington, State of Delaware." These words, written by E.I. du Pont in 1802, signaled the beginning of a mutually beneficial, centuries-old relationship between the DuPont Company and the city of Wilmington.
Established by Quaker merchants in the 1730s, Wilmington was a milling and grain-shipping center for farmers in Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania. In 1802 E.I. established his powder mills upstream from Wilmington, intending to harness the Brandywine River’s power and to use the city’s port for shipping. DuPont provided business to local artisans and shopkeepers and employed area residents, but Wilmington residents remained uneasy about the danger of explosives manufacture so close to the city. Their fears were realized in 1854 when three wagon loads of black powder exploded while traveling through the city, killing two residents and causing extensive property damage. DuPont responded quickly to the tragedy, compensating the bereaved families and paying for rebuilding and repairs.
As the company diversified into new explosives in the late 19th century, DuPont operations spread throughout the Wilmington area. In 1880 Lammot du Pont built the Repauno Chemical Company, a dynamite plant located across the Delaware River from Wilmington at Gibbstown, N.J. Ten years later, DuPont opened a smokeless powder plant at Carney’s Point, also on the New Jersey side of the river. Following the 1902 change in management, the company established the Experimental Station, a general research laboratory, across the Brandywine River from DuPont’s first mills.
DuPont’s consolidation of the powder-making industry after 1902 increased the need for management personnel and larger office space. President T. Coleman du Pont advocated moving the company to New York City, but cousins Pierre and Alfred insisted that DuPont should remain near the Brandywine. Coleman agreed to keep the company local as long as the headquarters were close to banks, railroad connections and hotel facilities, a compromise that brought DuPont to downtown Wilmington. In 1905 the DuPont Building was completed at the northwest corner of Tenth and Market streets. Seven years later, the company added the 200-room Hotel du Pont, the most elegant and costly hotel ever built in Wilmington.
Wilmington was a small industrial city with modest buildings and limited infrastructure, and DuPont executives recognized that the city would have to grow along with the company. Pierre du Pont’s assistant, John J. Raskob, worked with city officials to build a new courthouse and public park across from the DuPont Building. Coleman personally financed construction of a highway from Delaware’s southern border to Wilmington and pushed for a number of other roads leading to the city. Demands for DuPont powder during World War I created jobs and with them came new housing, including Wawaset, a planned community built by DuPont for white-collar employees. Changes such as these signaled a shift in the city’s economic base from industrial production to corporate management.
During the Great Depression, Pierre helped form a city relief committee to assist the jobless in Wilmington. The city’s fortunes improved during World War II, when DuPont’s sales nearly tripled. Since World War II, DuPont’s further diversification and success in the chemical industry has strengthened Wilmington’s economy and extended benefits to the surrounding suburbs.
Beyond a purely business relationship, DuPont has been committed to community outreach in the Wilmington area. In the early 1920s, the company financed construction of the Wilmington Institute Free Library and supported the Delaware Art Museum. In 1951 DuPont created the Hagley Museum and Library on the site of the company’s original mills, providing scholars and the general public unique insight into the area’s industrial past. The company and family have also helped meet the needs of Wilmington’s children. In the 1920s and 1930s, Pierre worked tirelessly to reform public schooling in Wilmington and throughout Delaware. Pierre’s cousin Alfred sponsored picnics and outings for the city’s underprivileged children. In his will, Alfred provided funds to establish a hospital for handicapped children, which has become a first-rate pediatric hospital. Although DuPont is now a global science company, it maintains a special relationship with the city that first welcomed E.I. du Pont in 1802.PrevNext
1804 Black Powder
Between 1802 and 1880, black powder was the sole product manufactured at DuPont. Before coming to America in 1800, E.I. du Pont, the company’s namesake, learned the superior skills of black powder manufacture (the combination of sulfur, potassium nitrate and charcoal) at the French government’s gunpowder agency. Certain that he could produce a powder superior to the best available American product, E.I. began building the Brandywine powder mills in 1802. By 1820 DuPont powder had earned a good reputation among sportsmen and the company had become the leading powder supplier to the U.S. government.
In 1857 Lammot du Pont developed a new method of black powder manufacture which substituted South American sodium nitrate for the more expensive, British-controlled potassium nitrate. This change not only freed American powder from dependence on Great Britain but also resulted in a more powerful blast than existing black powder. Lammot’s "B" blasting powder was the first notable change in black powder composition in more than 600 years. During the Civil War, further black powder research yielded "Mammoth Powder" for heavy artillery use by Union forces.
In the late 19th century, new explosives began to challenge the dominance of black powder. Alfred Nobel’s invention of dynamite introduced a blasting explosive three times more powerful.
Recognizing the significance of this invention, DuPont entered dynamite production when Lammot organized the Repauno Chemical Company in 1880. The black powder market eroded further with the development of smokeless powder in the 1890s. Derived from guncotton, smokeless powder burned more cleanly than black powder and provided greater explosive force. The two world wars accelerated research and development of new explosives like TNT and blasting gelatins. Following World War II, black powder production declined rapidly until all commercial manufacture was discontinued in the mid-1970s.
In 1802 E.I. du Pont founded his company solely as an explosives manufacturer. Trained at the French government’s gunpowder agency headed by the famous chemist Antoine Lavoisier, E.I. was certain that he could produce black powder superior to the best available American product at that time. DuPont’s Brandywine powder mills did indeed manufacture the highest quality black powder. By the beginning of the War of 1812, DuPont had become the leading black powder supplier to the U.S. government. An era of national development between 1830 and 1860 created greater demand for powder to blast open coal mines and to build roads, canals and railroads. In 1857 Lammot du Pont patented a new method of black powder manufacture which substituted sodium nitrate for potassium nitrate, resulting in a more powerful blast than traditional black powder. Two years later, DuPont purchased the Wapwallopen powder factory outside Wilkes-Barre, Pa., to manufacture this blasting powder for industrial uses. During the Civil War, DuPont supplied almost 40 percent of all powder used by the Union army and navy.
By the late 19th century, DuPont was experimenting with new explosives technology first developed in Europe. In 1867 Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel successfully stabilized nitroglycerin to create dynamite, a high explosive providing three times the power of black powder. Unable to convince company president Henry du Pont to begin dynamite operations, Lammot entered the business independently when he organized the Repauno Chemical Company in 1880. Repauno was later fully incorporated into DuPont and became the world’s largest producer of dynamite by the 1920s. Even more important for DuPont’s future was the discovery by European chemists of guncotton, a highly explosive material derived from nitrated cotton, or nitrocellulose. By the 1880s, researchers had successfully changed guncotton into a smokeless powder that was superior to black powder. DuPont first made smokeless powder in the 1890s for sport shooting and soon developed a military grade version. The company would become the world’s largest producer of the explosive during World War I.
Although World War I resulted in unprecedented explosives production, DuPont had already begun to diversify into non-explosives. When the du Pont cousins bought the company in 1902, they sought new uses for the raw materials of explosives, particularly in the production of lacquers,