Skip to main content
Select Source:

E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company

E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company

1007 Market Street
Wilmington, Delaware 19898
U.S.A.
(302) 774-1000

Public Company
Incorporated: 1915
Employees: 125,000
Sales: $37.8 billion
Stock Exchanges: New York
SICs: 2911 Petroleum Refining; 2221 Broadwoven Fabric MillsManmade; 2819 Industrial InOrganic Chemicals Nec; 2869 Industrial Organic Chemicals Nec

Du Pont is the oldest family name in American pre-industrial wealth. Its reputation is synonymous with organic chemistry. Founded in 1802, the company began as a partnership in gunpowder and explosives. Du Pont grew from a family business to a multinational conglomerate through the acquisition of its competing companies, and through the diversification of product lines.

Founder Éleuthère Irenée duPont de Nemours was born to French nobility. He studied with the chemist in charge of manufacturing the French governments gunpowder, Antionne LaVoisier. The years of turmoil preceding the French Revolution caused him to immigrate to the United States in 1797. He chose to build his production facilities on a site on the Delawares Brandy wine River, which was central to all of the states at the time and provided sufficient water power to run the mills. DuPont rapidly established a reputation for superior gunpowder. He died in 1834, leaving his sons Alfred and Henry to buy out French financiers and continue the business. His sons expanded the companys product line into the manufacture of smokeless powder, dynamite, and nitroglycerine.

One century after its founding, the gunpowder and explosives combine faced dissolution when senior partner Eugene duPont died at the age of 62, after having served 42 years. With no new leadership the surviving partners decided to sell the company to the highest bidder. Alfred I. duPont, a distant relative of the founder, purchased the firm with the aid of his cousins. Alfred was intent on saving the family business. Although he had grown up working in gunpowder yards, he lacked the organizational skills needed to run the firm. His cousins Pierre S. duPont and Thomas Coleman possessed the financial acumen and led the family company to unprecedented success. The purchase price was set at $12 million, but secret investigations by the cousins unveiled company assets conservatively valued at $24 million. The old partnership also held a great deal of undervalued shares in other companies, among them their direct competitors in the gunpowder business, Hazard and Laflin & Rand. Not having the initial capital for the purchase, the young cousins negotiated a leveraged buy-out giving them a 25 percent interest in the new corporation and 4 percent paid on $12 million over the next 30 years. Coleman was president, Pierre treasurer, and Alfred vice president of E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. The only cash involved in the takeover was $8500 in incorporation fees.

Sound management, luck, and hidden wealth resulted in the acquisition of 54 companies within three years. Pierre set out to dominate the industry through pay-offs and by purchasing minority shareholders and vulnerable competitors. When the cousins first incorporated in 1902, the company controlled 36 percent of the U.S. powder market. By 1905 it held a 75 percent share of the market. Du Pont alone supplied 56 percent of the national production of explosives, with $60 million in estimated assets; it had become one of the nations largest corporations.

A new method of operation was required to keep track of the rapidly growing organization. The cousins solicited the aid of Amory Haskell and Hamilton Barksdale, managers who had reorganized their dynamite business into an efficient organization. They remodeled the unwieldy company using elaborate family tree charts composed of levels of managers. The new structure revolutionized American business and gave birth to the modern corporation. The system of organization worked so well that Pierre bailed out the then struggling General Motors Corporation, buying 23 percent of the shares and applying the skills Du Pont had perfected. (The Department of Justice later ordered Du Pont to divest its General Motors holdings in 1951.)

Du Pont grew to command the entire explosives market. So dominant were they by 1907 that the U.S. government initiated antitrust proceedings against them. Du Pont was deemed a gunpowder monopoly in 1912 and ordered to divest itself of a substantial portion of its business. In addition, early years of incorporation were fraught with tension between Alfred and his more practical cousins. Arguments ensued over the modernization of the Brandy wine yards. Coleman and Pierre saw modernization as the only way to fully utilize the plant. The quarrel, along with other incidents, prompted Coleman and Pierre to take away Alfreds responsibilities in 1911. In effect, this left Alfred a vice president in name only.

Modernization, diversification, good management, and a command of the market characterized Du Fonts industrial era phase. The experiments of Du Pont chemists with a product known as guncotton, an early form of nitroglycerine, led to the companys involvement in the textile business. The end of World War I proved the peacetime use of artificial fibers to be more profitable than explosives. In the 1920s Du Pont acquired French rights for producing cellophane. Du Pont made it moistureproof, transforming cellophane from a decorative wrap to a packaging material for food and other products. Du Pont also produced the clothing fiber Rayon in the 1920s, and used a stronger version of the fiber for auto tire cord.

Du Pont gradually moved away from explosives and into synthetics. Their most important discovery, Nylon, was created in 1930 by a polymer research group headed by Wallace H. Ca-rothers. The synthesis of nylon came from the hypothesis that polymeric substances were practically endless chains held together by ordinary chemical bonds. Long chain molecules could be built one step at a time by carrying out well-understood reactions between standard types of organic chemicals. Carothers chose one of natures simplest reactionsalcohols reacting with acids to form esters. By reacting compounds with alcohol groups on each end with analogous acids, polyesters were produced. Super polymers were later formed when a molecular still was used to extract the water that was formed in the reaction. The excess water had created a chemical equilibrium that stopped reaction and limited chain growth. Experimentation with diamine-dibasic pairs produced a molten polyamide that could be drawn into filaments, cooled, and stretched to form very strong fibers. Du Pont later marketed a 6-6 polymer, which was made from the inexpensive starting compound Benzene. The new fiber proved remarkably successful. It was employed as a material for undergarments, stockings, tire cord, auto parts, and brushes.

A large number of plastics and fibers followed. Products such as Neoprene (synthetic rubber), Lucite (a clear, tough plastic resin), and Teflon (a resin used in non-stick cookware) became commonplace. Fibers like Orion (a bulky acrylic fiber), Dacron polyester, and Mylar became household names. Du Pont quickly became known as the worlds most proficient synthesizer. The range of textiles that they supplied reoriented the whole synthetic field.

Not every Du Pont invention was a success, however. Corf am, a synthetic leather product, proved to be a disaster. Lammont duPont Copeland, the last duPont to head the company, invested millions of dollars into promoting Corf am in the 1960s. The product was not successful due to the fact that, although the material lasted practically forever, it lacked the flexibility and breathability usually found in leather products. Lammont relinquished the chief executive post in 1967 and was succeeded by Charles B. McCoy, son of a Du Pont executive. Irving Shapiro took the post in 1974. Shapiro had served Du Pont well, acting as the principal lawyer negotiating the antitrust suit brought against Du Pont and General Motors Corporation.

Shapiro lead Du Pont for six years during a period when the fibers industry stagnated from overcapacity. Du Ponts stream of synthetic fiber discoveries had led it into a trap, for it left them content to exploit the fiber market without looking elsewhere for new products. The demand for fibers collapsed in the mid-1970s, causing a halt in the companys main business. Climbing raw material costs and declining demand combined to depress the market in 1979. The innovator of a new technology had been the last to recognize that the market it created was losing momentum. The collapse compelled Du Pont to concentrate exclusively on repairing its old business, delaying actions to create a new base. Du Ponts rebuilding efforts were also hindered by reducing its commitment to research and development. Continued reliance on fibers caused Du Pont to be one of the worst hit chemical companies in the 1980 recession.

Du Ponts continued attention to the fibers business, however, resulted in an important discovery in 1980. Kevlar was added to the companys assemblage of synthetic textiles. Du Pont scientist Stephanie Kwolek discovered the solvent that unclumped the hard chains of molecules comprising an intractable polymer. The resultant revolutionary material proved to be light yet strong, possessing a tensile strength five times that of steel. Fabrics made of Kevlar were heat and puncture resistant. When laminated, Kevlar outstripped fiberglass. Du Pont made the largest financial gamble in its history, investing $250 million in a Kevlar plant expansion. Applications for Kevlar ranged from heat resistant gloves, fire resistant clothing, and bullet resistant vests to cables and reinforcement belting in tires. Kevlar also proved successful in the fabrics industry: one half of the police force in the United States soon wore Kevlar vests. Kevlars true success, however, depended on the price of its raw materialoil. Kevlar showed no threat of becoming a steel replacement, since the price of its production was considerably higher.

Du Pont reacted to the depressed market in textiles by arranging mergers and acquisitions of other companies in other industries. Du Ponts takeover of the Conoco Oil company (the United Statess number two petroleum firm) was the largest merger in history. Issues of anti-trust were prevalent in negotiation for the merger, but in the end Du Pont bought Conoco for $7.8 billion. Du Pont merged with Conoco to protect itself from the rise in crude oil prices. As oil supplies dwindled, a supply of Conoco oil and coal as raw material for Du Ponts chemicals provided a competitive advantage. Conocos sites in Alberta, Canada, and off the north slope of Alaska provided large amounts of these resources. Du Ponts only disadvantage in the Conoco takeover was the introduction of Edgar Bronfman, chairman of the Seagram Company, the worlds largest liquor distiller, into a minority position in Du Pont-Conoco. Conoco had been a major acquisition target for Seagram. The merger left Seagram with 20 percent of Du Pont. Bronfman saw himself as a long-term investor in Du Pont and desired an important voice in the companys direction. However, Seagram and Du Pont arrived at an agreement whereby Seagram could not purchase more than 25 percent of Du Pont stock until 1991.

Growth and greater financial security came to Du Pont in 1980 when they bought Remington Arms, a manufacturer of sporting firearms and ammunition. The Remington Arms unit of Du Pont made a number of multi-million dollar contracts with the army to operate government-owned plants. Du Pont also expanded its scope in the early 1980s with other major purchases. New England Nuclear Corporation, a leading manufacturer of radioactive chemicals for medical research and diagnosis, was acquired in April of 1981, and Solid State Dielectrics, a supplier of dielectric materials used in the manufacture of multilayer capacitors, was acquired in April of 1982.

Du Pont management was determined to reduce the companys dependence on petrochemicals. It decided to take some risks in becoming a leader in the life sciences by delving into development and production of biomedical products and agricultural chemicals. In April of 1982 Du Pont purchased the agrichemicals division of SEPIC. In November they acquired the production equipment and technology for the manufacture of spiral wound reverse osmosis desalting products. In March of 1986 Du Pont acquired Elit Circuits Inc., a producer of molded circuit interconnects.

In addition to mergers and acquisitions, Du Pont became heavily involved in joint ventures. Du Pont had agreements with P. D. Magnetics to develop, manufacture, and sell magnetic tape. It also became involved with PPG Industries to manufacture ethylene glycol. Aided by Olin Corporation, it planned to construct a chlor/alkali production facility. Du Pont also forged extensive connections with Japanese industry. The 1980s united them with Sankyo Company (to develop, manufacture, and market Pharmaceuticals), Idemitso Petrochemicals (to produce and market butanediol), Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company, and Mitsubishi Rayon Company. Furthermore, Du Pont established connections in Europe. They became partners with N.V. Phillips (to produce optical discs), EKA AB (to produce and market the Compozil chemical system for papermaking processes), and British Telecom (to develop and manufacture optoelectronic components).

In addition to stock chemicals and petrochemically based synthetic fibers, Du Pont looked to the life sciences and other specialty businesses to produce earnings. Edward G. Jefferson, a chemist by training, succeeded Shapiro and directed the company into the biosciences and other specialty lines. Du Pont supported these businesses with large amounts of capital investment and research and development expenditures. The fields of interest were genetic engineering, drugs and agricultural chemicals, electronics, and fibers and plastics.

Du Pont had the kind of multi-national marketing capability and the resources to become a major influence in the life sciences. The company sought ways to restructure living cells to mass produce specific micro-organisms in an attempt to produce commercial quantities of interferon, a human protein that is potentially useful in fighting viruses and cancer. Du Pont claimed to be the first company to have purified fibroblast interferon, one of the three types of human interferon in the mid-1970s. Du Pont developed a blood profile system, artificial blood, and a test for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). They created drugs that control irregular heartbeats, aid rheumatoid arthritis pain, and were anti-narcotic agents. In addition to new drugs, Du Pont worked to develop new pesticides and herbicides. Du Pont built a $450 million business as a major supplier to the electronics industry, providing sophisticated connectors and the dry film used in making printed circuits. Du Pont also developed new high performance plastics. The companys scientists developed a process called group transfer polymerization for solvent based polymer acrylics. This was the first major polymerization process developed since the early 1950s.

In the early to mid-1980s Du Pont had approximately 90 major businesses selling a wide range of products to different industries, including petroleum, textile, transportation, chemical construction, utility, health care, and agricultural industries. Business operations existed in more than 50 nations. Du Pont had eight principle business segments: biomedical products; industrial and consumer products; fibers; polymer products; agricultural and industrial chemicals; petroleum exploration and production; petroleum refining, marketing and transportation; and coal. Total expenditure for research and development amounted to more than $1 billion in 1985, and over 6000 scientist and engineers were engaged in research activities.

But by this time Du Pont was bloated with the numerous businesses it had acquired over the years. Management decided to return to its former policy of focusing on areas of maximum profit. It began moving away from commodity production, instead concentrating on oil, health care, electronics, and specialty chemicals.

By 1987 the changes were paying off in some areas, as discretionary cash flow reached $4.5 billion. Biomedical products represented only 4 percent of sales, but the firm was moving into the large markets for cancer and AIDS testing and research. Breaking into its new markets was expensive, however. Earnings soared at rivals like Rhone-Poulenc and Dow Chemical, which were less diversified. Meanwhile Du Ponts pretax income climbed only 4.5 percent, to 3.8 billion in 1988, although sales climbed by 8 percent. Du Pont still had problems with quality control. In 1988 Ford Motor Co. gave Du Ponts contract for mirror housings to General Electric because paint kept flaking off of Du Ponts plastic, according to an April, 1989, Business Week article.

Edgar Smith Woolard, Jr., became president in 1989, backed by the Bronfman family. As part of his mission to raise the price of Du Ponts stock and prevent a takeover, the firm bought back about 8 percent of its outstanding stock. The electronics division had $1.8 billion in annual sales and had won business in films and imaging, though it was losing money in the highly competitive areas of fiber optics and optical disks. In addition, the Pharmaceuticals business was still losing money. Investment in research and equipment had reached $1.8 billion since 1982, yet most of the drugs under development were years from the market. One area of clear success was Du Ponts textile business. The $5.8 billion division was the firms most profitable.

Seeking to raise public awareness of its fibers, Du Pont started a consumer products catalogue featuring household items made from its products. The catalogue mentioned copyrighted fiber names like Lycra, Zytel, and Supplex as it advertised the clothes, sporting goods, and housewares. Du Pont had reason to be interested in maintaining brand-name recognition in fibers. Lucre, a stretch polymer invented in 1959 and originally used for girdles, became a huge hit after being adopted for biking clothes and other exercise outfits during the early 1980s. By the end of the decade, Lucre clothing had become fashionable. Big name designers incorporated it into their wardrobes, and by 1990, Lucre profits topped $200 million a year. Du Ponts patent on Lucre, the generic name of which is spandex, had long since expired, but Du Pont had continued to improve the fabric and was its only major manufacturer. To make certain things stayed that way, the firm announced in 1990 that it would spend $500 million over three years to build or expand Lucre plants.

Another important area for Du Pont was pollution control and cleanup. According to Forbes magazine, the firm was one of the countrys biggest air polluters, and was in the process of spending well over $1 billion on pollution control and clean up. The firms chlorofluorocarbon business was being replaced by chemicals less harmful to the ozone layer, at a cost of another $1 billion. Du Pont also stood to make money, however, by creating safer herbicides and expanding into the growing recycling market. Partly because of these trends, Du Ponts sales of agricultural chemicals tripled between 1985 and 1990, to $1.7 billion.

Du Pont continued to cut costs and sell off unprofitable operations. The firm closed its declining Orion division and laid off two layers of vice presidents. In 1991 it sold half of Consolidation Coal Co. for over $1 billion to Germanys Rheinbraun A.G. Although the coal unit was profitable, Du Pont decided it would rather invest in fibers and chemicals than in the coal business.

The Gulf War temporarily drove up oil prices and refinery margins, leading to profits of over $1 billion for Conoco in 1990. But a worldwide recession was hurting most of the rest of the company. Profits for 1991 fell to $1.4 billion on sales of $38.7 billion, down from sales of $40 billion in 1990. The firms electronics products had garnered little prestige within the industry, and had fallen well behind earlier projections. So Du Pont began pulling back, beginning by selling an electronic connectors business with $400 million in annual sales. Du Pont also took a step back from pharmaceuticals, putting that division into a joint venture with Merck & Co.

As it approached the mid-1990s, Du Pont was back to concentrating on its core businesses of chemicals and fibers. It was cutting employment to reduce costs, and trying to put fewer layers between sales staff and top management.

Principal Subsidiaries

Conoco Coal Development Co.; Conoco Inc.; Conoco Shale Oil Inc.; Consolidated Coal Co.; Continental Pipe Line Co.; Continental Overseas Oil Co.; Douglas Oil Co.; Du Pont International Sales Corp.; Fairmont Supply Co.; Kayo Oil Co.; Louisiana Gas System, Inc.; Remington Arms Co. Inc. The company also lists subsidiaries in the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Dubai, Finland, France, Guatemala, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Liberia, Libya, Luxembourg, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom, and Venezuela.

Further Reading

Chandler, Alfred D., Jr., and Stephen Salsbury, Pierre S. duPont and the Making of the Modern Corporation, New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

Colby, Gerald, duPont Dynasty, Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, 1984.

Mosley, Leonard, Blood Relations: The Rise and Fall of the duPonts of Delaware, New York: Atheneum, 1980.

Norman, James R., Turning Up the Heat at Du Pont, Forbes, August 5, 1991.

Taylor, Graham D. and Patricia E. Sudnik, Du Pont and the International Chemical Industry, Boston: Twayne, 1984.

Weber, Joseph, Du Ponts Version of a Maverick, Business Week, April 3, 1989.

Weber, Du Ponts Trailblazer Wants to Get ©ut of the Woods, Business Week, August 31, 1992.

Weiner, Steve, But Will They Ever Know Zytel from Lycra?, Forbes, June 26, 1989.

updated by Scott M. Lewis

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

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. 13 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 13, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/e-i-du-pont-de-nemours-company-0

"E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company." International Directory of Company Histories. . Retrieved December 13, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/e-i-du-pont-de-nemours-company-0

E. I. Du Pont De Nemours & Company

E. I. Du Pont De Nemours & Company

1007 Market Street
Wilmington, Delaware 19898
U.S.A.
(302) 774-1000

Public Company
Incorporated: September 4, 1915
Employees: 146,017
Sales: $27.148 billion
Market value: $27.533 billion
Stock Index: New York

Du Pont is the oldest family name in American preindustrial wealth. Its reputation is synonymous with organic chemistry. Founded in 1802, the company began as a partnership in gunpowder and explosives. Du Pont grew from a family business to the multinational conglomerate it is today through the acquisition of companies it was in competition with, and through the diversification of product lines.

Founder Éleuthère Irenée duPont de Nemours was born to French nobility. He studied with the chemist in charge of manufacturing the French governments gunpowder, Antionne LaVoisier. The years of turmoil preceding the French Revolution caused him to emigrate to the United States in 1797. To build his production facilities he chose a site on the Delawares Brandywine River, which was central to all the states at the time and provided sufficient water power to run the mills. Du Pont rapidly established a reputation for superior gunpowder. Irenée died in 1834, leaving his sons Alfred and Henry to buy out French financiers and continue the business. His sons expanded Du Ponts product line into the manufacture of smokeless powder, dynamite and nitroglycerine.

One century after its founding, the gunpowder and explosives combine faced dissolution when senior partner Eugene duPont died at the age of 62, after having served 42 years. With no new leadership the surviving partners decided to sell the company to the highest bidder. Alfred I. duPont, a distant relative of the founder, purchased the firm with the aid of his cousins. Alfred was serious about saving the family business. Although he had grown up working in gunpowder yards, he lacked the organizational skills needed to run the firm. His cousins Pierre S. duPont and Thomas Coleman possessed the financial acumen and led the family company to unprecedented success. The purchase price was set at $12 million but secret investigations by the cousins unveiled company assets conservatively valued at $24 million. The old partnership also held a great deal of undervalued shares in other companies, among them their direct competitors in the gunpowder business, Hazard and Laflin & Rand. Not having the initial capital for the purchase, the young cousins negotiated a leveraged buy-out giving them a 25% interest in the new corporation and 4% paid on $12 million over the next 30 years. Coleman was president, Pierre treasurer and Alfred vice-president of E.I1 du Pont de Nemours & Company. The only cash involved in the takeover was $8500 in incorporation fees.

Sound management, luck, and hidden wealth resulted in the acquisition of 54 companies within 3 years. Pierre set out to dominate the industry through pay-offs and by purchasing minority shareholders and vulnerable competitors. When the cousins first incorporated in 1902, the company controlled 36% of the U.S. powder market. By 1905 Du Pont held a 75% share of the market. Du Pont alone supplied 56% of the national production of explosives, with $60 million in estimated assets; it was now one of the nations largest corporations.

A new method of operation was required to keep track of the rapidly growing organization. The cousins solicited the aid of Amory Haskell and Hamilton Barksdale, managers who had reorganized their dynamite business into an efficient organization. They remodeled the unwieldly company using elaborate family tree charts composed of levels of managers. The new structure revolutionized American business and gave birth to the modern corporation. The system of organization worked so well that Pierre bailed out the then struggling General Motors Corporation, buying 23% of the shares and applying the skills Du Pont had perfected. (The Department of Justice later ordered Du Pont to divest its General Motors holdings in 1951.)

Du Pont grew to command the entire explosives market. So dominant were they by 1907 that the U.S. government initiated antitrust proceedings against them. Du Pont was deemed a gunpowder monopoly in 1912 and ordered to divest itself of a substantial portion of its business. In addition, early years of incorporation were fraught with tension between Alfred and his more practical cousins. Arguments ensued over the modernization of the Brandywine yards. Coleman and Pierre saw modernization as the only way to fully utilize the plant. The quarrel, along with other incidents, prompted Coleman and Pierre to take away Alfreds responsibilities in 1911. In effect, this left Alfred a vice president in name only.

Modernization, diversification, good management and a command of the market characterize Du Ponts industrial era phase. The experiments of Du Pont chemists with a product known as guncotton, an early form of nitroglycerine, led to the companys involvement in the textile business. The end of World War I proved the peacetime use of artificial fibers to be more profitable than explosives. In the 1920s Du Pont acquired French rights for producing cellophane. Du Pont made it moistureproof, transforming cellophane from a decorative wrap to a packaging material for food and other products. Du Pont also produced the clothing fiber Rayon in the 1920s, and used a stronger version of the fiber for auto tire cord.

Du Pont gradually moved away from explosives and into synthetics. Their most important discovery, Nylon, was created in 1930 by a polymer research group headed by Wallace H. Carothers. The synthesis of nylon came from the hypothesis that polymeric substances were practically endless chains held together by ordinary chemical bonds. Long chain molecules could be built one step at a time by carrying out well understood reactions between standard types of organic chemicals. Carothers chose one of natures simplest reactionsalcohols reacting with acids to form esters. By reacting compounds with alcohol groups on each end with analogous acids, polyesters were produced. Super polymers were later formed when a molecular still was used to extract the water that was formed in the reaction. The excess water had created a chemical equilibrium that stopped reaction and limited chain growth. Experimentation with diamine-dibasic pairs produced a molten polyamide which could be drawn into filaments, cooled and stretched to form very strong fibers. Du Pont later marketed a 6-6 polymer which was made from the inexpensive starting compound Benzene. The new fiber proved remarkably successful. It was employed as a material for undergarments, stockings, tire cord, auto parts and brushes.

A large number of plastics and fibers followed. Products such as Neoprene (synthetic rubber), Lucite (a clear, tough plastic resin), and Teflon (a resin used in non-stick cookware) became commonplace. Fibers like Orion (a bulky acrylic fiber), Dacron polyester and Mylar became household names. Du Pont quickly became known as the worlds most proficient synthesizer. The range of textiles which they supplied reoriented the whole synthetic field.

Not every Du Pont invention was a success however. Corf am, a synthetic leather product proved to be a disaster. Lammont duPont Copeland, the last duPont to head the company, invested millions of dollars into promoting Corf am in the 1960s. The product was not successful due to the fact that, although the material lasted practically forever, it lacked the flexibility and breathability usually found in leather products. Lammont relinquished the chief executive post in 1967 and was succeeded by Charles B. McCoy, son of a Du Pont executive. Irving Shapiro took the post in 1974. Shapiro had served Du Pont well, acting as the principal lawyer negotiating the antitrust suit brought against Du Pont and General Motors Corporation.

Shapiro lead Du Pont for six years during a period when the fibers industry stagnated from overcapacity. Du Ponts stream of synthetic fiber discoveries had led it into a trap, for it left them content to exploit the fiber market without looking elsewhere for new products. The demand for fibers collapsed in the mid-1970s, causing a halt in the companys main business. Climbing raw material costs and declining demand combined to depress the market in 1979. The innovator of a new technology had been the last to recognize that the market it created was losing momentum. The collapse compelled Du Pont to concentrate exclusively on repairing its old business, delaying actions to create a new base. Du Ponts rebuilding efforts were also hindered by reducing its commitment to research and development. Continued reliance on fibers caused Du Pont to be one of the worst hit chemical companies in the 1980 recession.

Du Ponts continued attention to the fibers business, however, resulted in an important discovery in 1980. Kevlar was added to the companys assemblage of synthetic textiles. Du Pont scientist Stephanie Kwolek discovered the solvent which unclumped the hard chains of molecules comprising an intractable polymer. The resultant revolutionary material proved to be light yet strong, possessing a tensile strength five times that of steel. Fabrics made of Kevlar are heat and puncture resistant. When laminated, Kevlar outstrips fiberglass. Du Pont made the largest financial gamble in its history, investing $250 million in a Kevlar plant expansion. Applications for Kevlar range from heat resistant gloves, fire resistant clothing, and bullet resistant vests to cables and reinforcement belting in tires. Kevlar has already proven successful in the fabrics industry; one half of the police in the United States now wear Kevlar vests. Kevlars true success, however, will depend on the price of its raw materialoil. At present Kevlar shows no threat of becoming a steel replacement, since the price of its production is considerably higher.

Du Pont reacted to the depressed market in textiles by arranging mergers and aquisitions of other companies in other industries. Du Ponts takeover of the Conoco Oil company (Americans number two petroleum firm) was the largest merger in history. Issues of anti-trust were prevalant in negotiation for the merger, but in the end Du Pont bought Conoco for $7.8 billion. Du Pont merged with Conoco to protect itself from the rise in crude oil prices. As oil supplies dwindle, a supply of Conoco oil and coal as raw material for Du Ponts chemicals will provide a competitive advantage. Conocos sites in Alberta, Canada and off the north slope of Alaska are presently providing large amounts of these resources. Du Ponts only disadvantage in the Conoco takeover was the introduction of Edgar Bronfman, chairman of Seagrams, the worlds largest liquor distiller, into a minority position in Du PontConoco. Conoco had been a major aquisition target of Seagrams. The merger left Seagrams with 20% of Du Pont. Bronfman sees himself as a long term investor in Du Pont and would like an important voice in the companys direction. However, Seagrams and Du Pont have arrived at an agreement whereby Seagrams cannot purchase more than 25% of Du Pont stock until 1991.

Growth and greater financial security came to Du Pont in 1980 when they bought Remington Arms, a manufacturer of sporting firearms and ammunition. The Remington Arms unit of Du Pont has made a number of multi-million dollar contracts with the army to operate government owned plants. Du Pont also expanded its scope in the early 1980s with other major purchases. New England Nuclear Corporation, a leading manufacturer of radioactive chemicals for medical research and diagnosis, was acquired in April of 1981, and Solid State Dielectrics, a supplier of dielectric materials used in the manufacture of multilayer capacitors, was acquired in April of 1982.

Du Pont management is determined to reduce the companys dependence on petrochemicals. It has decided to take some risks in becoming a leader in the life sciences by delving into development and production of biomedical products and agricultural chemicals. In April of 1982 Du Pont purchased the agrichemicals division of SEPIC. In November they acquired the production equipment and technology for the manufacture of spiral wound reverse osmosis desalting products. In March of 1986 Du Pont acquired Elit Circuits Inc., a producer of molded circuit interconnects.

In addition to mergers and acquisitions, Du Pont is heavily involved in joint ventures. Du Pont has agreements with P.D. Magnetics to develop, manufacture and sell magnetic tape. It is also involved with PPG Industries to manufacture ethylene glycol. Aided by Olin Corporation, it will construct a chlor/alkali production facility. Du Pont also has extensive connections with Japanese industry. The 1980s have thus far united them with Sankyo Company (to develop, manufacture and market Pharmaceuticals), Idemitso Petrochemicals (to produce and market butanediol), Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company and Mitsubishi Rayon Company.

Furthermore, Du Pont has established connections in Europe. They are partners with N.V. Phillips (to produce optical discs), EKA AB (to produce and market the Compozil chemical system for papermaking processes), and British Telecom (to develop and manufacture optoelectronic components).

In addition to stock chemicals and petrochemically based synthetic fibers, Du Pont presently looks to the life sciences and other specialty businesses to produce earnings. Edward G. Jefferson, a chemist by training, succeeded Shapiro and directed the company into the biosciences and other specialty lines. Du Pont is supporting these businesses with large amounts of capital investment and research and development expenditures. The fields of interest are genetic engineering, drugs and agricultural chemicals, electronics, and fibers and plastics.

Du Pont has the kind of multi-national marketing capability and the resourses to become a major influence in the life sciences. Du Pont is presently seeking ways to restructure living cells to mass produce specific micro-organisms in an attempt to produce commercial quantities of interferon, a human protein that is potentially useful in fighting viruses and cancer. Du Pont claims to be the first company to have purified fibloblast interferon, one of the three types of human interferon in the mid-1970s. Du Pont is developing a blood profile system, artificial blood, and a test for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. They have created drugs which control irregular heartbeats, aid rhematoid arthitis pain, and are anti-narcotic agents. In addition to new drugs, Du Pont is working to develop new pesticides and herbicides. Du Pont has already built a $450 million business as a major supplier to the electronics industry, provided sophisticated connectors and the dry film used in making printed circuits. Du Pont is also developing new high performance plastics. Their scientists have developed a process called group transfer polymerization for solvent based polymer acrylics. This is the first major polymerization process developed since the early 1950s.

Du Pont has approximately 90 major businesses selling a wide range of products to different industries, including petroleum, textile, transportation, chemical construction, utility, health care and agricultural industries. Business operations exist in more than 50 nations worldwide. Du Pont has eight principle business segments: biomedical products; industrial and consumer products; fibers; polymer products; agricultural and industrial chemicals; petroleum exploration and production; petroleum refining, marketing and transportation; and coal. Total expenditure for research and development amounted to over one billion dollars in 1985. Over 6000 scientist and engineers are engaged in research activities. This alone attests to the fact that Du Pont is well prepared for the future.

Principal Subsidiaries

Conoco Coal Development Co.; Conoco Inc.; Conoco Shale Oil Inc.; Consolidated Coal Co.; Continental Pipe Line Co.; Continental Overseas Oil Co.; Douglas Oil Co.; Du Pont International Sales Corp.; Fairmont Supply Co.; Kayo Oil Co.; Louisiana Gas System, Inc.; Remington Arms Co.; Inc. The company also lists subsidiaries in the following countries: Argenina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Dubai, Finland, France, Guatemala, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Liberia, Libya, Luxembourg, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom, and Venezuela.

Further Reading

Pierre S. duPont and the Making of the Modern Corporation by Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. and Stephen Salsbury, New York, Harper and Row, 1971; Blood Relations: The Rise and Fall of the duPonts of Delaware by Leonard Mosley, New York, Atheneum, 1980; duPont Dynasty by Gerard Colby, Secaucus, New Jersey, Lyle Stuart, 1984; Du Pont and the International Chemical Industry by Graham D. Taylor and Patricia E. Sudnik, Boston, Twayne, 1984.

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

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"E. I. Du Pont De Nemours & Company." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. 13 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"E. I. Du Pont De Nemours & Company." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 13, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/e-i-du-pont-de-nemours-company

"E. I. Du Pont De Nemours & Company." International Directory of Company Histories. . Retrieved December 13, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/e-i-du-pont-de-nemours-company