Skip to main content
Select Source:

Du Pont, Éleuthère Irénée

DU PONT, ÉLEUTHÈRE IRÉNÉE


Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (17711834), a French refugee in the early days of the American republic, founded an international industrial giant, E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company. Begun as a small gunpowder mill on Brandywine Creek near Wilmington, Delaware, his company became a leading manufacturer of chemicals, plastics, and synthetic fibers and was one of the older continuously operating industrial enterprises in the world.

Du Pont was born in Paris, France, in 1771, the son of Pierre Samuel du Pont, a French nobleman. His mother died when the boy was fourteen. With his older brother, Victor, du Pont grew up at Bois-des-Fosses, a family estate sixty miles south of the French capital.

The political turmoil of revolutionary France strongly influenced du Pont's early life. His father was politically active, sharing the title of commander of the National Guard with the Marquis de Lafayette, the French general and statesman who came to the aid of the American army during the American Revolution (17751783). The elder du Pont, together with Lafayette, founded the conservative Société de 1789 to promote a constitutional monarchy. The son aligned himself politically with his father. On August 10, 1792 the du Ponts led a sixty-man private guard to defend the king's palace from an assault by radicals dedicated to ending the monarchy. But their success on that occasion did not change the inevitable; the king, queen, and many supporters were later imprisoned and guillotined.

Among the many men and women put to the guillotine was Antoine Lavoisier (17431794), known as the father of modern chemistry. Lavoisier was one of the greatest scientists of his day and a close friend of Pierre du Pont. He was also in charge of the royal gunpowder mills and, in that role, he taught the young du Pont the craft of gunpowder-making.

When the future emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (17691821) seized power in 1799, both Pierre and Éleuthère du Pont were imprisoned for their opposition to his autocratic rule. They were released when they pledged to leave France. The du Pont family arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, on December 3, 1800, it was in the United States that Éleuthère du Pont would thrive.

It was soon apparent to du Pont that gunpowder was a much-needed commodity in his adopted land. Guns were needed on the frontier. Settlers hunted for meat and skins and gunpowder was also used to clear land to build homes and roads. Although some gunpowder was produced locally, ninety percent was imported from France.

On July 19, 1802, du Pont purchased land on Brandywine Creek near Wilmington, Delaware, with $36,000 in capital from a group of French investors, and he set about building his first black powder factory. In the spring of 1804 the first du Pont gunpowder was sold. The business was an immediate success and it became highly profitable during the War of 1812 (18121814).

Following the teachings of his mentor, Lavoisier, and the scientific method the great chemist advocated, du Pont brought to the United States new ideas about the manufacture of consistently reliable gun and blasting powder. Unlike much of the black powder then available, du Pont's product ignited when it was supposed to. In 1811 former President Thomas Jefferson (18011809) wrote to du Pont to express his appreciation of the quality of the gunpowder he had purchased to clear the land for his new estate, Monticello.

Du Pont gave careful attention to preparing his raw materials. Saltpeter was thoroughly cleaned in du Pont's mills, no matter what the state of the material's cleanliness when it arrived at the plant. Sulfur was not used unless pure and clear in color.

Du Pont always sought ways to improve the quality of his product and the company's manufacturing methods. He was also a man of exemplary ethics. In March 1818, for example, an explosion killed 40 men and ruined his mills. Even though there were no laws requiring it, and it was not the business practice of the day, du Pont took it upon himself to compensate the families of the victims. He pensioned the widows, gave them homes, and took responsibility for the education and medical care of the surviving children.

Du Pont spent 32 years as president of his very profitable enterprise. At the time of his death in 1834 the privately owned company he had named E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company had become highly successful. Following his death the company was passed down to his sons and, until 1940, the enterprise was headed by a member of the du Pont family.


See also: DuPont Chemical Company


FURTHER READING

Colby, Gerald. Du Pont: Behind the Nylon Curtain. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974.

Dorian, Max. The Du Ponts: From Gunpowder to Nylon. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1961.

Du Pont De Nemours, E.I. Du Pont: The Autobiography of an American Enterprise. Wilmington, DE: E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Co., 1952.

Du Pont de Nemours, Samuel Pierre. The Autobiography of du Pont de Nemours. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1984.

Gates, John D. The du Pont Family. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979.

Winkler, John K. The du Pont Dynasty. New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1935.

du pont brought to the united states new ideas about the manufacture of consistently reliable gun and blasting powder. unlike much of the black powder then available, du pont's product ignited when it was supposed to.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Du Pont, Éleuthère Irénée." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Du Pont, Éleuthère Irénée." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/du-pont-eleuthere-irenee

"Du Pont, Éleuthère Irénée." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/du-pont-eleuthere-irenee

Éleuthère Irénée du Pont

Éleuthère Irénée du Pont

Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771-1834), a French-born American manufacturer, founded the gunpowder mill which became the basis of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company.

Born in Paris on June 24, 1771, E. I. du Pont was the son of Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, a leading economist of the physiocratic school. Irénée demonstrated little interest in school, and in 1788 he went to work for Antoine Lavoisier, the noted French chemist who was chief of the royal powder works. He became Lavoisier's first assistant in 1791.

Following the French Revolution, Irénée's father found he could not cooperate with the new government and decided the family should emigrate to the United States. The decision was undoubtedly influenced by the elder Du Pont's friend Thomas Jefferson, with whom he had become acquainted when Jefferson was serving as minister to France. Thirteen members of the family, including Irénée, his wife, and three children, sailed for the United States and arrived in Newport, R.I., on New Year's Day 1800.

On a hunting trip with Col. Louis de Toussard, an American military officer, Irénée du Pont discovered that American gunpowder was not only poor in quality but high in price. They made a study of the powder industry in America and concluded that the construction of a powder mill might be a profitable venture. Du Pont and his brother Victor returned to France to seek the assistance of former associates. He obtained designs for machinery and the equipment he would need, plus pledges of financial support. Upon his return he purchased a farm 4 miles from Wilmington, Del., as the site for his factory. In 1803 the small mill began processing saltpeter for the government, and eventually the company produced the first powder for sale.

During the next few years the company increased its production and sales, but not without problems. Stockholders grew tired of Du Pont's continuous expansion and demanded their share of the profits. Two explosions, one in 1815 and another in 1818, resulted in 49 deaths and considerable financial loss. Orders from the U.S. government during the War of 1812, however, made Du Pont the major powder producer in America.

Du Pont had other interests besides gunpowder. In 1811, with his brother Victor and Peter Baudy, he opened a woolen mill on the Brandywine River. Du Pont helped establish a cotton mill and a tannery. In 1822 he became a director of the Bank of the United States. He died on Oct. 31, 1834, in Philadelphia.

Further Reading

Bessie Gardner du Pont edited and translated Life of Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (12 vols., 1923-1927), which is largely a collection of Du Pont's correspondence. His life in the United States is included in her E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.: A History, 1802-1902 (1920). Max Dorian, The Du Ponts: From Gunpowder to Nylon (1961; trans. 1962), contains extensive references to Irénée du Pont, as does William S. Dutton, Du Pont: One Hundred and Forty Years (1942). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Éleuthère Irénée du Pont." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Éleuthère Irénée du Pont." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/eleuthere-irenee-du-pont

"Éleuthère Irénée du Pont." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/eleuthere-irenee-du-pont

du Pont, Éleuthère Irénée

du Pont, Éleuthère Irénée


FRENCH-AMERICAN INDUSTRIALIST
17711834

Éleuthère Irénée du Pont was born in France on June 24, 1771, and died on October 31, 1834, in the United States. He was the son of Pierre du Pont, an active member of the French government in the 1780s and 1790s before, during, and after the French Revolution. In keeping with the spirit of the times, Éleuthère Irénée was named for "liberty and peace." During the rise of Napoléon Bonaparte, Pierre was ordered into exile because of his continuing royalist sympathies. He took his family to the United States, where he later helped negotiate the U.S. purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France.

In 1787 Éleuthère Irénée du Pont worked at Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier's saltpeter plant in Essone, France. Here he was exposed to the craft of gunpowder manufacturing and to the application of Lavoisier's new chemistry to an industrial process. When du Pont arrived in the United States in 1800, he began to search for a potentially profitable business opportunity

and soon became aware of the unreliable and generally poor quality of domestic gunpowder at the time. After an unsuccessful attempt to purchase what was then the largest U.S. gunpowder plant located in Frankford, Pennsylvania, he purchased a mill on the Brandywine River in Delaware. This site had the advantage of existing mills with proven water power, nearby access to the port of Wilmington, local willow woods for charcoal, and a community of French-speaking workers. The mills were converted to the manufacture of gunpowder, and by 1811 E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. was the country's largest gunpowder manufacturing plant. It became the major supplier of gunpowder during the War of 1812.

On March 19, 1818, an accident at the plant triggered a series of explosions that killed thirty-six workers and destroyed five mill buildings. The company took years to rebuild and recover from this tragedy. In the process of rebuilding, safety became a lasting feature of corporate planning at DuPont. By the time of Éleuthère Irénée's death, DuPont was the primary manufacturer of gunpowder in the United States. As of 2003 it produces much more than gunpowder and is among the largest chemical manufacturers in the world.

see also Lavoisier, Antoine.

David A. Bassett

Bibliography

Brown, G. I. (2000). The Big Bang: A History of Explosives. Gloucestershire, U.K.: Sutton Publishing.

Colby, Gerard (1984). Du Pont Dynasty. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"du Pont, Éleuthère Irénée." Chemistry: Foundations and Applications. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"du Pont, Éleuthère Irénée." Chemistry: Foundations and Applications. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/du-pont-eleuthere-irenee

"du Pont, Éleuthère Irénée." Chemistry: Foundations and Applications. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/du-pont-eleuthere-irenee

Du Pont, Eleuthère Irénée

Eleuthère Irénée Du Pont (dōō pŏnt, Fr. ālötĕr´ ērānā´ dü pôN), 1772–1834, American gunpowder manufacturer, b. Paris, France; son of Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours. At the age of 17, Irénée entered the royal gunpowderworks, where Lavoisier taught him the trade. After Lavoisier was forced to leave the plant, Irénée began managing (1791) his father's printing house, where the Du Ponts published counterrevolutionary pamphlets. When the Jacobins suppressed the printing house, Irénée and his family left for the United States to set up a trading and land company. Although he met disillusionment upon reaching (1800) the United States, Irénée soon formulated plans to improve the quality of American gunpowder. In July, 1802, he began constructing his powderworks on Brandywine Creek, near Wilmington, Del. Despite lack of capital, Irénée continuously improved his gunpowder and plant and, within a few years, developed an extensive business (now E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company). His sales were augmented during the War of 1812 and the years following, but his immense debts and family obligations constantly plagued him. He was appointed (1822) a director of the Bank of the United States, and his judgment on developing industries and encouraging agriculture was often sought.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Du Pont, Eleuthère Irénée." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Du Pont, Eleuthère Irénée." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/du-pont-eleuthere-irenee

"Du Pont, Eleuthère Irénée." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/du-pont-eleuthere-irenee