Thursday, May 9, 2013

Delaware's DuPont and Nemours Dynasty

By Tiffany Amber Stockton

Wow! What a great discussion we had last month on the 9th, sharing in our love of cowboys and the appeal of the Old West. I tried to respond as much as possible, but I know I didn't get to everyone. Chalk it up to the life of an author and mom with her hands full of two kids under the age of 5. :)

So, this month, we'll be launching into a behind-the-scenes facts about the Nemours and DuPont (also written as du Pont) family in Delaware. Though their name doesn't get listed often with Rockefeller and Carnegie, their status and contribution to American industry and business is equivalent, if not above, those families.

DuPont was founded in 1802 by Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, using capital raised in France and gunpowder machinery imported from France. The company was started at the Eleutherian Mills, on the Brandywine Creek, near Wilmington, Delaware two years after he and his family left France to escape the French Revolution. It began as a manufacturer of gunpowder, as du Pont considered the industry in North America to be inferior to that of Europe. The company grew quickly, and by the mid 19th century had become the largest supplier of gunpowder to the United States military, supplying half the powder used by the Union Army during the American Civil War. The Eleutherian Mills site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and is now a museum.

These mills are referenced in books 2 (Stealing Hearts) and 3 (Antique Dreams) of my current Brandywine Brides series.

DuPont continued to expand, moving into the production of dynamite and smokeless powder. Under advisement based on the Sherman Antitrust Act, DuPont divested its monopoly on the chemical industry. DuPont retained the single base nitrocellulose powders, while Hercules held the double base powders combining nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine. DuPont subsequently developed the Improved Military Rifle (IMR) line of smokeless powders.

In 1914, Pierre S. du Pont invested in the fledgling automobile industry, buying stock of General Motors (GM). The following year he was invited to sit on GM's board of directors and eventually was appointed the company's chairman. In 1920, Pierre S. du Pont was elected president of General Motors. Under du Pont's guidance, GM became the number one automobile company in the world.

In the 1920s DuPont continued its emphasis on materials science, working on polymers in 1928. The company discovered neoprene, the first synthetic rubber; the first polyester superpolymer; and, in 1935, nylon. The discovery of Teflon followed a few years later.

DuPont ranked 15th among United States corporations in the value of wartime production contracts. As the inventor and manufacturer of nylon, DuPont helped produce the raw materials for parachutes, powder bags, and tires.

DuPont also played a major role in the Manhattan Project in 1943, designing, building and operating the Hanford plutonium-producing plant in Hanford, Washington. In 1950 DuPont also agreed to build the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina as part of the effort to create a hydrogen bomb.

After the war, DuPont continued its emphasis on new materials, developing Mylar, Dacron, Orlon, and Lycra in the 1950s, and Tyvek, Nomex, Qiana, Corfam, and Corian in the 1960s. DuPont materials were critical to the success of the Apollo Project of the United States space program.

DuPont has been the key company behind the development of modern body armor. In the Second World War DuPont's ballistic nylon was used by Britain's Royal Air Force to make flak jackets. With the development of Kevlar in the 1960s, DuPont began tests to see if it could resist a lead bullet. This research led to the bullet resistant vests that are the mainstay of police and military units around the world.

So, as you can see, the DuPont family has had its hand in a significant number of American industries and has been integral in the development of major breakthroughs in industry, manufacturing, automobiles, weapons, safety gear, the space program, and so much more. And it's all owed to the man who started it all...Éleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours.

Éleuthère was known as Irénée du Pont, or E.I. du Pont, and he was a French American chemist and industrialist. His descendants, the Du Pont family, were one of America's richest and most prominent families in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Du Pont was born on June 24, 1771, in Paris, France, the son of Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours and Nicole Charlotte Marie Louise Le Dée de Rencourt. Aren't those names a mouthful? :)

Du Pont worked at the Arsenal in Paris where he gained his expertise in nitrate extraction and manufacturing. He also worked at a gunpowder mill in Essones and managed a saltpetre refinery. Like his father, he was initially a supporter of the French Revolution. However, he was among those who physically defended King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette from a mob besieging the Tuileries Palace in Paris during the insurrection on August 10, 1792. After his father narrowly escaped the guillotine and the family house was sacked by a mob in 1797, the entire family left for the United States in 1799.

Du Pont sailed before his family and landed at Rhode Island on January 1, 1800, along with his father and his brother's family. By 1802, he had established both his business and his family home, Eleutherian Mills, on the Brandywine Creek in Delaware. January 1st is the anniversary of the arrival of the du Pont family in America. So, while the rest of the world is toasting in a new year, the DuPont family members are honoring their ancestor's arrival in America and the start of the DuPont dynasty.

Du Pont died on October 31, 1834, at Eleutherian Mills, near Greenville. He was buried in the Du Pont de Nemours Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware. That cemetery still exists today as a final resting place for many of the DuPont family.

The company Éleuthère founded has become one of the largest and most successful American corporations. His sons, Alfred V. du Pont (1798–1856) and Henry du Pont (1812–1889), managed the plant after his death. A few of the DuPont "boys" are referenced in book 1 of Brandywine Brides, Bound by Grace. That eBook is available for the entire month of May for just $.99. You can read my blog post at A Fictional Life for more details.

I have had the privilege of meeting and speaking with two members of the DuPont family. One was a lawyer in the firm where my mother worked. Pierre S. DuPont IV. Doesn't the name just roll off the tongue? His son, Pierre S. DuPont V, had an office right across the hall from my mother. He served as Delaware Governor from 1977-1985 and is now the director of that same law firm, though my mother no longer works there. I was only 11 when I met them, but they made a significant impression. Most fascinating to me is the father is the great-nephew of Pierre S. DuPont, who opened up Longwood Gardens, a spectacular array of plants and flowers and landscaping that is a feast for the eyes. It's one of the premier botanic gardens in the US. It's also where I first saw an outdoor performance of Brigadoon.

So, what did you find most fascinating about this history? What would you like to know more about? Have you had any encounters with a DuPont family member or any of the products they've produced/manufactured over the years?

Tune in next month when I'll get around to that Mackinac Island history...after I finish my current book set on Mackinac Island. It's due June 1st., so back to the storyboard! :)


BIO
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood. Today, she is an award-winning author, speaker, and virtual assistant, who lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have one girl and one boy, and an Aussie/retriever mix named Roxie. She has sold fourteen books so far and is represented by Sandra Bishop of MacGregor Literary Agency. Read more about her at her web site: http://www.amberstockton.com/.


18 comments:

  1. This is all very fascinating. Before I read this, the only thing I ever really knew about DuPont was that it was a sponsor of Nascar driver Jeff Gordon. Unless that is a different DuPont. Thanks for the history lesson. God bless.

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    1. No, you're right, Debbie. DuPont *is* a sponsor. The one good thing about their name is there is only one family. :)

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  2. Wow, that's fantastic research. My father was a chemist and worked for BASF and Corning Inc. He held patents in different plastics back in the early 60's. Have always been intrigued by the development of new compounds, but even more so, how to dispose of them properly, since many never break down once they're created.

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    1. I can't say that I've followed all the chemical research side of the DuPont factories, but they have made a lot of significant contributions to major discoveries and developments. Fascinating to have a chemist for a father. Did he ever get so lost in his work that it seemed he spoke a completely different language?

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  3. I never realize du Pont had ties to the French Revolution. How fascinating!

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    1. Their family has an amazing history, and yet they flew under the radar for the most part, being overshadowed in history books by the likes of the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts. Must be because of the tiny state where they chose to settle.

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  4. Thanks for the info...so interesting and I didn't know that!

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    1. My pleasure, Eliza. Thanks for dropping by to read.

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  5. Amber, I enjoyed your history writing. I've always heard of the DuPonts, but never knew anything about their beginning.

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    1. Seems to be a common issue, Barbara. Perhaps one day I'll write more books featuring this family.

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  6. Longwood Gardens seems like a great place to see Brigadoon for the first time! I enjoyed learning about DuPont. Before reading your post, I would never have tied the company to gunpowder manufacturing in the Civil War.

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    1. Most don't, Janalyn. I suppose this is why a lot of publishers have told me I've found my niche. :) And yes, it was an amazing experience sitting among the gardens in the open air and watching the live performance of Brigadoon. I'll never forget it!

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  7. I really could not say what I found the most fascinating, except that it all was! Certainly one has heard of DuPont, but I had no idea they have such a long and interesting history.
    Thanks so much for teaching me a little more :)

    Betti
    bettimace(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. My pleasure, Betz. I have a feeling a lot of folks would be surprised to learn about this family's history and contributions to America.

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  8. Wow, from defending MArie Antoinette to the American soil to make a huge impact! Fascinating! And I stopped trying to read the names - what a mouthful. :)
    Can't wait for Mackinac Island! One of my favorite places to drive to and visit. (well, drive to the ferry dock, that is, lol)
    Susan
    farmygirl at hotmail dot com

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    1. LOL! You've got that right, Susan. Those French names are quite the tongue tanglers, especially when so many of the letters aren't pronounced!

      Eh-lu-thair Ear-a-nay dew-pont day Neh-mores

      Now you know why most shortened his name to E.I. DuPont. :)

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  9. Hmm, and I thought DuPont was involved only in synthetics and other stuff like that. Interesting to find out how extensive their involvement was in everything. Looking forward to reading about Mackinac Island. Would love to visit there one day.

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    1. I'd love to visit there too. Was hoping I'd sell a book set there and could persuade someone for an all-expenses paid trip for research. But alas, that didn't pan out. (sigh) Maybe one day.

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