Du Pont, Éleuthère Irénée
DU PONT, ÉLEUTHÈRE IRÉNÉE
Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771–1834), 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 (1775–1783). 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 (1743–1794), 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 (1769–1821) 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 (1812–1814).
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 (1801–1809) 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
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.
du Pont, Éleuthère Irénée
du Pont, Éleuthère Irénée
E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company
Generations of men and women have contributed to the development of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, which grew from a single gunpowder mill on Brandywine Creek to an international giant. But the company's start, as well as its heart and soul, are attributable to one man, Éleuthère Irénée du Pont, who was shaped by the revolutionary period of France in the late eighteenth century and came to America as a refugee.
Éleuthère Irénée du Pont was born in Paris, France, on June 24, 1771, to Pierre Samuel du Pont and Nicole Charlotte Marie Le Dee. In Greek his names signify the ideals of honor, liberty, and peace. Du Pont's father was a noble, granted his position after having served the corrupt French throne for many years. His mother died when du Pont was 14 years old. Along with his older brother, Victor, du Pont grew up at Bois-des-Fosses, a family estate 60 miles south of Paris, and was schooled by private tutors.
The young du Pont was heavily influenced by the momentous politics of his time. He grew up during the harsh and oppressive political atmosphere of France during the days of Louis XIV and the angry mobs of the revolution, who used the guillotine liberally. His final days in France saw the rise to power of Napoleon Bonaparte. Pierre du Pont was politically active, sharing the title of commander of the National Guard with the Marquis de Lafayette. Du Pont aligned himself politically with his father who, along with Lafayette, was a conservative who promoted a constitutional monarchy.
A good friend of du Pont's father, Antoine Lavoisier, was chief of the royal powder works and, in 1788, du Pont started to train with him at Essonnes. This is where he gained the basic knowledge that he would eventually use to establish his own business in America. Lavoisier also taught du Pont about the scientific method and instilled in him a lifelong interest in botany and scientific agriculture.
In 1791, at the age of 20, du Pont married Sophie Madeleine Dalmas; the two would eventually have seven children. The same year, Lavoisier lost his directorship of the powder works and du Pont had to leave Essonnes. He went to Paris, where he took charge of the printing house his father had established to promote his political point of view.
On August 10, 1792, the du Ponts led a 60-man private guard to defend the king's palace from an assault by radicals dedicated to ending the monarchy. The success of this action did not change the inevitable, however, and the French revolution saw the king and du Pont's friend and mentor, Antoine Lavoisier, guillotined. Pierre du Pont also was arrested, but was granted his freedom by Robespierre and escaped the guillotine.
Du Pont had been attempting to make a living with the publishing house, but it was wrecked by a mob during the revolution. The newspaper he produced was a revolutionary-theme publication, and the times were still precarious. His father's new newspaper, L'Historien, supported reviving the monarchy and opposed Napoleon. When Napoleon came to power in a coup, both du Pont and his father were imprisoned. Fortunately, they were released, but only upon pledging to leave France. The du Pont family arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, on December 31, 1800, and it was in the United States that Éleuthère du Pont would thrive.
Du Pont had a strong interest in agriculture, was active in the American Colonization Society, and became a director of the Bank of the United States in 1822. He died on October 31, 1834, in Philadelphia. Du Pont was succeeded in his business first by his oldest son, Alfred, and then following Alfred's death by his second son, Henry.
Shortly after arriving in America, the du Ponts moved to New York. Du Pont's father had planned to develop land in western Virginia, but was advised to delay his land investments. His father then started a commission business in New York City, but it was not successful. Éleuthère du Pont then happened upon an idea that was much more profitable. On a hunting trip with Colonel Louis de Toussard, an American military officer, 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 business, since gunpowder was a much needed commodity. The people settling the American frontier required protection from Indians and wild animals. Settlers hunted for meat and skins, and gunpowder was used to clear land to build homes and roads. Du Pont saw a good market for gunpowder, and in 1801 returned to France for three months to secure financial support and machinery and designs for the manufacture of gunpowder.
On July 19, 1802, du Pont purchased land on Brandywine Creek near Wilmington, Delaware, the site of America's first cotton mill. Naming the plant Eleutherian Mills, in honor of freedom, du Pont set about building his first gunpowder factory. He moved his family close to the plant and persisted in building it as quickly as possible despite hardships, the most major of which was lack of capital. Du Pont was forced to take a partner, Peter Bauduy, an established businessman, in order to obtain enough money to start his business. Thus du Pont supplied the technical knowledge and management skills for the plant, while Bauduy, along with du Pont's father, supplied the capital.
The small mill began processing saltpeter for the government in 1803; in the spring of 1804, the first du Pont gunpowder was sold. Thomas Jefferson, then president, promised du Pont that the government would place orders with him, and du Pont became a principal supplier of gunpowder to the federal government. He also sold large amounts of supplies to the American Fur Company and to South American countries. In the first year of business, du Pont sold $10,000 worth of powder; by 1807 annual sales were up to $43,000. By 1815, du Pont was able to buy out his partner and run the business on his own. Du Pont, always loyal to his family, was also able to make good on debts incurred by his brother and his father when the businesses they had started in America failed. He also started to diversify; in 1811, du Pont, his brother Victor, and Peter Bauduy bought a woolen mill on the Brandywine River. In addition, du Pont helped establish a cotton mill and a tannery.
Du Pont spent 32 years as the president of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company at the mills on Brandywine Creek and became one of the most innovative and successful industrialists of his day. Du Pont's company is still in existence as one of the twentieth-century's largest international conglomerates.
Social and Economic Impact
Following the teachings of his mentor, Antoine Lavoisier, and the scientific method he espoused, du Pont established technical, methodological, and ethical principles to which the company adheres to this day. Du Pont gave careful attention to raw material preparation. He used charcoal made from willow trees, because these trees always grew new branches and thus were a renewable resource. Saltpeter (a white powder ingredient used to make gun powder) was always thoroughly cleaned in de Pont's mills, no matter what the state of cleanliness of the material when it arrived. Sulfur was not used unless pure and clear in color.
Du Pont installed a labor-saving device for kerneling of the powder. He always sought means to improve his methods and the quality of his product, regardless of the state of the economy or the success of the business. One hundred and fifty years before they became buzz words in American business, du Pont was pursuing quality, product, and process improvement. Du Pont also began a trend toward what has become known as vertical integration, knowing that a company's income can be enlarged through diversification and that by growing the grain for his transport horses on company land, he could increase profits.
Du Pont was also a man of exemplary ethics. Influenced by the events of the French revolutionary period in which he was raised, as well as by a devout mother, he lived his personal life by a strict code. He also carried this code of ethics into his business and required the company to act accordingly. In March 1818, for example, his mills were ruined by an explosion that killed 40 men. Even though there were no laws to require it and the business practices of the day did not point this way, 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. This action and the rebuilding of the plant required additional borrowing by the company, but du Pont's moral consciousness was his priority. This same sense of morality fostered his belief that quality was a matter of pride, and there would be no compromises made on quality.
Du Pont's impact was much more than the creation of a family business. The traditions espoused by his code of conduct and business honor carry through to this day. His guiding principle was that privilege was inextricably bound to duty. His sense of obligation to his customers was quite different from the norms of business in his time. Many times, he risked his business and his personal fortunes in order to fulfill a pledge or an obligation. His moral consciousness and technological ingenuity were precursors to business precepts of this century.
Chronology: Éleuthère Irénée du Pont
1791: Began training with Lavoisier at powder works.
1791: Took over father's printing house in Paris.
1800: Emigrated to America.
1802: Founded his own powder works.
1804: Sold first supply of powder.
1812: Became principal supplier of gunpowder to U.S. government.
1815: Bought out partner.
The legacy of du Pont includes a commitment to technological innovations and increased productivity, never at the expense of quality products. Du Pont's business methods and code, which originated in the turbulence of the French revolution and were honed in the Brandywine Mills, still guide the du Pont Company today. The du Pont family empire spans the globe and has holdings in real estate, arms and defense industries, computers, communications, media, utilities, oil, food industries, banks, aviation, chemicals, rubber, insurance, and many other businesses.
Sources of Information
Contact at: E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company
1007 Market St.
Wilmington, DE 19898
Business Phone: (302)774-1000
Dorian, Max. The Du Ponts: From Gunpowder to Nylon. Boston: Little, Brown, 1961.
Dujarric de la Riviére, René. E.I. Du Pont de Nemours. Paris: Librairie des Champs élysées, 1954.
Du Pont: The Autobiography of an American Enterprise. Wilmington, DE: E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Co., 1952.
Du Pont Wrote the Book on Painting. Automotive News, 29 April 1996.
Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997.
Garraty, John A., and Jerome L. Sternstein, eds. Encyclopedia of American Biography, 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
Ingham, John N. Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983.
Preston, Wheeler. American Biographies. Reprint: Detroit: Gale Research, 1974.
Who Was Who in America. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1967.
Winkler, John K. The Du Pont Dynasty. New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1935.
Ziog, Gerald Colby. Du Pont: Behind the Nylon Curtain. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1974.
du Pont, Éleuthère Irénée
du Pont, Éleuthère Irénée
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
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.
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.
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). □