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The DuPonts Invented Everything You Use

The name du Pont has appeared on this blog maybe a hundred times. When they built their powder mill on the Brandywine River in 1802 they put their hand in everything else in this area. You are always faced with something DuPont here (but so are you, you just haven’t realized it yet…read on!)

Since the DuPont Company is going through some restructuring and big changes the local paper The News Journal (which they also used to even own, geez) published a handy timeline which inspired me to partially recreate it here. I was asked awhile ago how the du Ponts had amassed such a fortune and influence…or maybe you just watched “Foxcatcher” and you’re wondering how that mentally disturbed guy had so much money (his great-grandfather was E.I. du Pont and his father owned Bellevue, which I wrote about here). Well, here are the answers accompanied by links to places I’ve written about previously on the site and photos from Longwood Gardens, home of Pierre du Pont…because photos of chemicals would be really boring.

Eleuthère Irénée [pronounced “Ear-a-neigh”] du Pont buys 95 acres on the Brandywine River (now the Hagley Museum) and the family immigrates to Delaware from France to start making gunpowder.

The first gunpowder is ready for sale. The kegs are marked “Brandywine Powder.”

The mill has its first explosion and safety becomes a priority. Workers must wear shoes without nails to avoid sparks and are made to turn out their pockets to show they aren’t carrying matches. A Connecticut gunpowder mill takes the name “Brandywine” so the company changes theirs to DuPont.

During the War of 1812, DuPont sells more than 1 million pounds of powder to the U.S. government. Sales reach nearly $150K, worth $2 million today.

Irénée buys the Hagley estate to add new powder mills. Employees get a company savings plan with Irénée paying 6 percent on accounts of $100 or more.

Irénée’s business partner, Peter Bauduy, leaves to set up his own company. He sues DuPont over his shares and litigation lasts until 1824. It is resolved in Irénée’s favor. An explosion kills nine men, the company’s first casualties. Irénée establishes a pension plan for the widows and orphans.

Irénée dies in Philadelphia on October 31 after a short illness.

Irénée’s sons: Alfred Victor, Henry and Alexis, form a partnership to run the company.

Demand for gunpowder and explosives during the Crimean War and the California Gold Rush is robust.

Lammot du Pont, Alfred’s son and the company chemist, is granted the company’s first patent for nitrate of soda. It is used as a substitute for saltpeter in making blasting powder.

The Civil War begins. Lammot goes to England on a secret mission for the government to buy enough saltpeter to supply the Union forces with gunpowder.

The DuPont company continues to buy land interests in rival powder works. Lammot du Pont is killed in an 1884 explosion. The company buys Lammot’s interest and becomes the country’s largest dynamite producer.

DuPont patents a smokeless powder made of cellulose material soaked in nitric acid. Cellulose would later become the basis for DuPont scientists to develop plastics, lacquers, films, fabrics and more.

The third generation of du Pont’s decide to sell the business to a competitor. Alfred I. du Pont (his house, Nemours, here), a fourth generation du Pont, wants to buy the company and enlists the help of his cousins, T. Coleman and Pierre S. du Pont (these gardens and Longwood are his home, more here…and all about the man himself is in a post here).

In March, the cousins buy the business for $12 million. In July, the company, employing about 800 people, celebrates its centennial by holding a party for 3,000 people with fireworks and target shooting. In August the company becomes the country’s largest explosives maker.

DuPont has acquired a total of 108 competitors. The federal government files an antitrust lawsuit. The oval trademark is created (see it here).

The company acquires Fabrikoid Co., producer of an artificial leather. It is the first acquisition of a company not involved in explosives.

A federal court rules against DuPont, saying its explosives business restrained trade by dominating the industry. The company is reorganized to wrest control from Alfred, who some family members believe shows little interest in changing the company {yeah, their descendants are still miffed about it!}

World War I begins in Europe. Smokeless powder is used in warfare for the first time. DuPont agrees to supply powder to the Allies.

Pierre quietly arranges to buy out his cousin Coleman. Alfred believes the company should have bought the stock. A family rift begins when cousin Philip, an Alfred supporter, files suit to stop the sale. DuPont continues to buy up other companies, explosives are now 97% of business.

For the WWI effort, DuPont builds the largest smokeless powder plant in the world near Nashville, Tennessee for $83.8 million, known as Old Hickory. The plant employs 30,000 men and women.

DuPont forms a joint venture with a French company to develop a new synthetic: “rayon.” Pierre S. du Pont takes the helm at General Motors to protect DuPont’s investment. At GM, Pierre introduces the “line and staff” organizational structure, a modified military model. Later it becomes a model for American companies. DuPont also begins selling film to Hollywood for motion pictures; it wins two Academy Awards for the making and processing of motion picture film.

DuPont introduces new paint and wood lacquers and begins production of a new product: cellophane.

Harvard University’s research genius, Wallace Hume Carothers, is lured away to head the polymer research program at DuPont.

In the midst of the Great Depression, the company lays off 4,000 of its 35,000 employees. DuPont beings to produce a new refrigerant called “freon.”

Carothers and his group of scientists have their first breakthrough and the company announces it will begin making synthetic rubber called “neoprene.”

DuPont is now 95% explosives and launches a new slogan “Better Things for Better Living…Through Chemistry.”

Lucite, a clear acrylic, is introduced by the company.

The company applies for a patent for Carothers’ “Fiber 66”, a faux silk made of chemicals. It is the first completely man-made fiber. The name “norun” for no-runs in stockings evolves into “nylon” and becomes DuPont’s blockbuster product. Twenty days after the patent is filed, Carothers commits suicide in a Philadelphia hotel by ingesting cyanide. He had suffered from depression and carried a cyanide capsule on his watch chain. He had told friends the discovery of synthetic silk and rubber was “enough for one lifetime.”

DuPont invents Teflon but it won’t see consumer application for decades.

The government asks DuPont to participate in the top secret Manhattan Project. DuPont builds the Hanford Washington Engineering Works to make plutonium for the development of the atomic bomb. DuPont builds a city to supports the Works.

DuPont produces record volumes of smokeless powder and TNT. 40% of explosives used by the Allies in World War II are supplied by DuPont. It also makes nylon yarn for parachutes.


The company celebrates its 150th anniversary. Mylar polyester film is developed. A year later Dacron, a wash-and-wear polyester is produced.


Fiber K, a synthetic elastic that comes to be known as Lycra becomes one of the company’s most successful products and establishes a new fiber classification, elastane or Spandex.


The company gets into scientific instruments, medical equipment, heat transfer products, building products and magnetic tape. DuPont spends $100 million to launch 41 new products in the decade and moves into molecular biology and pharmaceuticals.


The U.S. Supreme Court hears more antitrust matters related to DuPont than any other company. DuPont’s cases constitute 15% of the major antitrust rulings.


The US Food and Drug Administration approves Symmetrel, an influenza medicine later used to treat Parkinson’s disease.


Astronauts on the Apollo II mission walk on the moon. They wear protective suits that have 20 layers containing materials made by DuPont.

Hey, It's me ;) Hey, it’s me 😉

The company quits manufacturing black powder and dynamite.

Kevlar, a super strong lightweight fiber used in bulletproof vests and to reinforce building walls is introduced after 15 years of r&d.

The oil crisis created by the OPEC embargo comes when 70% of the company’s products are petroleum based. Income falls 31%.

Charles J. Pedersen, a retired DuPont chemist, wins the company’s first Nobel Prize for his discovery of chemical compounds called “crown ethers.”

NASA announces CFC’s are depleting the ozone layer. DuPont, a producer, decides to stop production by the year 2000.

Hundreds of farmers claim a DuPont herbicide killed their crops and file suit. DuPont pays many claims but says the product was not to blame.

Right now the company is in a state of flux. They’ve recently sold off their buildings and real estate in downtown Wilmington and there’s some other fighting going on but it’s not that interesting for this site 😉 I still have a few du Pont family members to feature on this blog, a large family with that much money always has plenty of scandals, fighting and exciting stories!

Source: Timeline partially reproduced from “The News Journal” (Sunday, April 19, 2015).