The 288 Explosions at the Hagley Powder Yards



Place: Hagley Gunpowder Mills (originally named Eleutherian Mills)

Location: Wilmington, DE

History: I’ve written about the history and origins of the Hagley (DuPont Co.) Gunpowder Mills previously here.

Notes: Since all of my previous photos of Hagley were taken in the spring and summer, I brought along my little travel camera to capture the mill right at the beginning of winter. The area is so beautiful and tranquil at any time of the year, sometimes it can be hard to remember that it was once a busy work environment filled with grave danger.



Recently, there was a special tour about the people who had lived and worked at Eleutherian Mills focusing on the effects of the major explosions there (especially the ones in 1818 and another in 1847; though there were in fact 288 explosions with 228 fatalities during its 119-year operation).

In one explosion a man was thrown into the air and badly burned. He stood up, declared his injuries not to be as severe as they seemed and climbed the steep hill home to his wife. He died that night. Maybe he was in shock at first? Killed in the explosion with him was a man on his first day at the job. His wife and child arrived soon after and learned of his death. Because he was technically an employee (even of only a day) she was allowed to live there and did into her old age.

Thirty-two others died that day and seven were also injured in the “Great Explosion” which saw 56,000 pounds of black powder go off; a blast so great that people in Philadelphia thought they were experiencing an earthquake. Another man was blown out of his shoes 200-yards away and miraculously received only bruising. They did find his shoes where he had originally been standing!


Because the du Ponts wanted to share in the tremendous danger with their workers their home was located within harm’s way just up a slight hill. The Great Explosion of 1818 shattered all of their modest mansion’s windows and brought plaster down from the ceilings injuring a few family members and requiring three months of repairs on the house.

In 1890, another serious explosion ripped through seven of the industrial buildings on the creek. The homes on Workers’ Hill felt the impact of the blast as well; a Rose Dougherty and her 5-month old baby girl were killed. It was everyone who shared in the danger of the mill, not just the male workers.


Source: Hagley tour guide and library