The Du Pont Family

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The Du Pont Family


"Lammot du Pont, although a multi-millionaire, was the family's fanatic on thrift, often carrying his own luggage in order to avoid having to tip."

gerard colby zilg in du pont: behind the nylon curtain

Du Pont is one of the most noted family names in U.S. industrial history. In 1802 Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771–1834), an immigrant from France, built a gunpowder mill on the Brandywine River in Delaware. Boosted by gunpowder sales to the government in the War of 1812 (1812–14), the company began to amass large profits during the American Civil War (1861–65) and World War I (1914–18). With its war profits, Du Pont greatly diversified; it was no longer just an explosives company but a world-leading chemical corporation. The du Pont family became one of the wealthiest families in the nation. In 1926 Lammot du Pont became the eighth consecutive family member to be named president of the family business. He continued to expand the Du Pont fortune during the 1930s Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) introduced new social and economic programs designed to help the country recover from its economic troubles, Lammot du Pont and other family members organized political opposition to these programs, which were collectively labeled the New Deal. The du Ponts feared the New Deal programs would be too restrictive toward business and industry.

Building an industrial giant

In 1800 Éleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours fled to the United States from revolutionary France along with his father and other family members. Éleuthère, encouraged by President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–09), founded E. I. Du Pont de Nemours & Company, which manufactured black powder in a factory on the Brandywine River just north of Wilmington, Delaware. Production of black powder, the prevailing form of gunpowder until later in the nineteenth century when it was replaced with a smokeless form of gunpowder, began in 1802 at the Du Pont factory. The War of 1812 gave the company's fortunes an early boost.

Éleuthère's sudden death in late 1834 placed his son, Alfred Victor du Pont (1798–1856) in charge of the business until 1850. Upon encountering health problems, Alfred turned the business over to his brother Henry (1812–1889) in 1850. Henry proved a shrewd manager and long-term president, greatly increasing the efficiency of gunpowder production. The Du Pont company made large profits during the American Civil War. The business expanded to a new factory built in New Jersey, and the new plant was producing a ton of dynamite a day in 1880. By 1881 the Du Pont company had cornered 85 percent of the explosives market, establishing itself as an industry giant during a period of rapid industrial growth in the United States. However, Henry left the company president position in 1889. Eugene du Pont took over but proved to be a less dynamic leader; under his leadership business began to slow.

Meanwhile, in October 1880 Lammot du Pont, the future Du Pont president, had been born in Wilmington, Delaware, home of the Du Pont dynasty. His father was also named Lammot, and his mother was Mary Belin du Pont. He had two older brothers, Pierre and Irénée. Young Lammot was largely raised by Pierre and Irénée after the death of their father in a nitroglycerin explosion in 1884. Like his older brothers, Lammot attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He graduated in 1901 with a degree in civil engineering and found work as a draftsman for a company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A new generation takes over

Upon Eugene's death in 1902, the elder members of the du Pont family decided to sell the family business. However, three of the younger du Ponts—Pierre and two of his cousins, Alfred and T. Coleman—were able to put an offer together to take control of the company and avoid the sale to nonfamily members. They invited Lammot to join the family business along with Pierre's personal secretary on financial matters, John Jakob Raskob. The more outgoing Coleman became president, Pierre ran the front office, Alfred oversaw research and production, and Raskob handled the complex financial arrangements. Lammot was named manager of the original Brandywine plant. Upon taking his new job, Lammot married Natalie Driver in 1903; she was the first of his four wives. Lammot would father ten children, eight by Natalie and two with his fourth wife.

Under the guidance of Pierre, Alfred, Coleman, Lammot, and Raskob, the company once again prospered. They greatly increased production efficiency and gained control of many other smaller powder firms. By 1905 Du Pont dominated the markets for blasting powder, dynamite, and gunpowder. It was producing 75 percent of the nation's explosives and had assets of $60 million. Because of its near monopoly of the explosives industry, Du Pont was among the industrial giants that attracted federal antitrust action in the first decade of the twentieth century. (Antitrust laws encourage business competition by breaking up monopolies.) In 1910 the government ordered Du Pont to break up its munitions monopoly. However, it left Du Pont in charge of the breakup, so the company suffered little.

With Coleman experiencing health problems, Pierre had become acting president in 1909. Pierre and Raskob restructured the Du Pont company into a modern management system with multiple management levels and separate departments responsible for the various products. Pierre also increased the active research and development program to regain government respect leading up to World War I in reaction to the earlier government antitrust lawsuits. Raskob was made treasurer of the giant company.

World War I profits

In 1915 the du Ponts along with other leading industrialists and bankers established the National Security League to lobby (attempt to persuade lawmakers) for U.S. entrance into World War I. The lobbying effort was supposedly based on patriotism and protection of the Allies, but many suspected the desire for profits was stronger. The United States did finally enter the war in 1917. The Du Pont company, with Pierre as president, brother Irénée now chief administrator, and Raskob directing finances, made profits of $59 million a year selling explosives to the U.S. government and Allied nations.

Rather shy in public but a highly competent businessman, Lammot moved up steadily, becoming vice president in charge of the black powder operation in 1916, when war production was rapidly increasing. He played a critical role in expanding the company's production capacity to meet the demand for military explosives. Du Pont supplied 40 percent of the explosives used by the Allies in World War I.


The company needed to invest its large war profits, so Raskob encouraged the du Ponts to purchase stock in the newly formed General Motors Corporation (GM). By 1919 Du Pont held 27 percent of GM stock, and Raskob had left Du Pont to become chairman of GM's finance committee. When GM faced bankruptcy in 1920 during the postwar economic slump, Pierre du Pont took over as GM's president. Along with GM founder William Durant (1861–1947), Pierre and Raskob reorganized GM into a highly diversified company manufacturing many kinds of products. They named Lammot a director of GM. Du Pont's stock holdings in GM climbed up to 36 percent during this time. When Pierre retired from the GM board of directors in 1929, GM was the world's largest corporation. Lammot followed Pierre as chairman of the board from 1929 to 1937. He remained on the board until 1946.

When Pierre assumed leadership of GM, he turned the Du Pont corporation presidency over to Irénée. Lammot became vice president in the corporation, and then president in 1926. He was the eighth du Pont to head the family business. A critical issue was how to continue making use of the company's expanded production capacities following the war. Lammot and Irénée played leading roles in the acquisition of various companies that produced ammonia, plastics, varnishes, paints, insecticides, and other products that could be made from either the same materials as the explosives or from the by-products of explosives production. By expanding into these many new product lines, Du Pont profits continued to grow even after the war was over. Du Pont also purchased thousands of German patents and recruited German scientists. The company also acquired the rights to cellophane in 1923 from a French company, and sales grew quickly. Lammot and Irénée had transformed the company from primarily a munitions manufacturer to a highly diversified chemical company.

As company president, Lammot further expanded Du Pont by buying companies in new lines of business and promoting new research. Research brought new products, including Freon® (refrigerant) in 1929 and synthetic rubber in 1930. Rayon was developed, and methanol was formulated for use in antifreeze. By 1930 Du Pont was the largest chemical corporation in the United States. These new products kept company profits at a relatively healthy $26 million in 1932, the worst year of the Great Depression.

Political issues

The du Ponts were actively involved in political issues. In early 1928 the three du Pont brothers—Pierre, Lammot, and Irénée—and Raskob became active in the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA). The organization was dedicated to repealing Prohibition, the nationwide ban on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages enacted in 1920. AAPA's members argued that the ban on alcoholic beverage sales infringed on individual rights, created crime, and cost the government much revenue through loss of tax money while increasing costs of law enforcement. Also in 1928, Raskob, a lifelong Republican, resigned from GM and became the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, which supported the candidacy of Alfred Smith (1873–1944) for president. Smith was more accommodating to the repeal of Prohibition than Republican candidate Herbert Hoover (1874–1964) was.

American Liberty League

The du Ponts, John Jakob Raskob, and many other leading industrialists and financiers in the United States disdained the New Deal social and economic programs introduced by President Franklin Roosevelt. By August 1934 they were becoming bolder despite the popular support of Roosevelt. Together they formed the American Liberty League (ALL) to combat business regulations and programs such as Social Security. A key goal was to defeat Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential elections and end his New Deal programs. The members of ALL were some of the same people who had formed the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment six years earlier to repeal Prohibition.

ALL argued that New Deal agencies such as the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the National Recovery Administration violated personal property rights by attempting to regulate business. They claimed that relief programs represented the "end of democracy." They also opposed increased taxes, economic planning, and government deficit spending. Some members called the New Deal a communist concept. The league was not a large organization—membership peaked at almost 125,000 people in the summer of 1936—but it represented considerable wealth. In a massive campaign, ALL spent $600,000 to try to defeat President Roosevelt. The du Pont family contributed one quarter of the money. Membership dropped sharply after Roosevelt's reelection, and the league officially disbanded in 1940 as foreign issues began to take priority over domestic concerns.

Not all business leaders joined ALL, and some remained firmly behind President Roosevelt. Because of his past personal support for Roosevelt, Pierre du Pont refused to participate actively in ALL despite family pressure. Roosevelt found business opposition surprising because he thought the New Deal programs would save the capitalist economic system that had made business leaders so wealthy.

In the du Ponts' hometown of Wilmington, Pierre served on the Mayor's Emergency Unemployment Relief Committee in the early 1930s, during the depth of the Great Depression. Though a lifelong Republican, Pierre supported Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt for president in the 1932 election, largely because of the Prohibition repeal issue. Herbert Hoover had won the previous election, and as a representative of the Republican Party he avoided taking a strong stand on the issue. The Democrats, on the other hand, favored repeal of Prohibition.

Except for Pierre, the du Ponts were greatly upset with Roosevelt's 1932 presidential election victory. To their dismay, Roosevelt's New Deal programs introduced in 1933 increased the role of government in the nation's business activities. However, Lammot and Pierre took an active role in the New Deal's National Recovery Administration (NRA) by drafting business codes for the chemical industry. Pierre was even appointed to the National Labor Board to oversee implementation of the NRA's industry codes. This experience in drafting codes and serving on the board hardened Lammot's disdain for the new government programs. He and Irénée charged that New Deal relief programs were unconstitutional because one segment of society was taxed in order to fund relief programs that would benefit only the unemployed, not the people who paid the tax. (At the time the du Pont brothers were among the wealthiest men in the world.)

In the summer of 1934 Lammot, Irénée, and Raskob along with other leading industrialists and financiers in the nation established the American Liberty League (ALL). The league, dedicated to defeating Roosevelt in his 1936 reelection bid and stopping his New Deal programs, met with little success.

Also in 1934 the U.S. Senate was investigating whether big business had pushed the United States into World War I for the purpose of making profits. Lammot, Pierre, and Irénée testified before a committee investigating munitions makers. Though no actual wrongdoing was uncovered, the public perception of the Du Pont corporation sharply declined when people learned of the vast profits Du Pont had made from the war. The press labeled the du Ponts "merchants of death." As a result, Du Pont took public relations steps to improve its image, sponsoring a popular radio program and creating catchy company slogans emphasizing the benefits of Du Pont products to society.

Forging on

Aside from politics and public relations in the 1930s, the company forged on, developing new products such as

nylon. Du Pont researchers had developed nylon by 1935, and it was unveiled to the public at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Nylon would become the hottest-selling product in Du Pont history and was used to make new consumer goods such as nylon hosiery.

Lammot retired from the Du Pont presidency and Pierre from the board of directors in 1940. Together they had built the top research and development programs in the industry. Under Lammot the budget for research rose from $2 million in 1926 to $11 million in 1940. Lammot was the last member of the du Pont family to be president of the family's business. He remained chairman of the board of Du Pont through World War II (1939–45) until 1948. During this time he contributed to many conservative political organizations that opposed the federal government's attempts to regulate big business.

For the public good

The du Pont family was known for more than its success in industry. The du Ponts developed elaborate gardens and donated millions of dollars to Delaware public schools and the state's highway system. The black American school system in Delaware was financed solely by the du Ponts, and the family gave substantial assistance to the state's college for blacks, the Delaware State College. Pierre du Pont was on the Delaware school board and became state school tax commissioner from 1925 to 1929 and state tax commissioner from 1929 to 1937 and from 1944 to 1949.

Lammot died on Fishers Island, New York, in July 1952. Though no member of the du Pont family was in the Du Pont company leadership by the end of the twentieth century, the family still owned 15 percent of the company's stock.

For More Information


burk, robert f. the corporate state and the broker state: the du ponts andamerican national politics, 1925–1940. cambridge, ma: harvard university press, 1990.

carr, william h. a. the du ponts of delaware. new york, ny: dodd, mead, 1964.

chandler, alfred d., jr., and stephen salsbury. pierre s. du pont and themaking of the modern corporation. new york, ny: harper & row, 1971.

duke, marc. the du ponts: portrait of a dynasty. new york, ny: saturday review press, 1976.

zilg, gerard colby. du pont: behind the nylon curtain. englewood cliffs, nj: prentice-hall, 1974.

zilg, gerard colby. du pont dynasty. secaucus, nj: l. stuart, 1984.

Web Sites

du pont heritage. (accessed on september 7, 2002).