The Dupont Family

The Dupont Family – early years

So much has been written about Du Pont and the du Ponts, by carpingly critical, coldly objective and servilely subsidized pens, that almost anything goes, but it shouldn't, for the whole saga is a magnificent American story that echoes now the world around.

For a century they made explosives. For a century "The Company" was a closed family project. The original Eleuthere Irenee du Pont, who built the first mill on the Brandywine in 1802, was an apprentice of the great chemist Lavoisier at the French government powder works at Essone. His son Henry went to West Point for the finest engineering courses offered in this country. The next generation went to the University of Pennsylvania for chemistry, and after Massachusetts Institute of Technology was founded in 1861, subsequent offspring studied there. From the very nature of their business, technical educations were prerequisite, because powder making is a volatile affair and knowledge is the basic life insurance.

When the company was founded, the original Irenee drew a salary of $1800 a year. The capitalization was $36,000. By 1809, the profits had averaged only $7268.94 a year. The War of 1812 increased the Du Pont gross receipts, of course, but in his lifetime Iren6e never knew real security or complete freedom from debt—only hard and grueling work and an eternal scramble to meet his obligations.

In a century, Du Pont faced these conditions five times—with the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Crimean War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. However, in that same century, the peacetime market for powder steadily expanded. The vast stumping, dredging, tunneling, building and mining of a growing country re-quired industrial powder. Du Pont furnished it. Through Henry du Pont's gunpowder trust, by manufacturers' agreement initially, and then by slick deals for actual Du Pont ownership of competing companies, they came close to supplying all of it—and at their own price.

In 1861, Major General Henry du Pont, the West Pointer in command of all Delaware militia, changed Delaware from a potential Southern state to a Northern state in a matter of half an hour. Delaware was then a Democratic state and slave owning. In i860 less than one third of the state's vote supported Lincoln. With war clouds hovering, and with threats of rebellion against the pro-Union minority mounting, General Henry wired the Federal commander in Baltimore, General John A. Dix, for troops. They came at once. Delaware did not secede. She furnished subsequently 13,651 men to the Union—one eighth of her population—and met every Federal tax assessment throughout four years of war.

Dupont – Early 20th Century

In 1907 the Department of Justice took notice and the Government charged the Company had violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Du Pont was, however, definitely Big Business by then—although not yet the ultimate giant—the colossus that was to inspire in present times a second anti-trust suit, the hugest in history, and defend itself, winning against the Government after a five-year battle in the courts.

World War I had to be fought first. By official British admission Du Pont explosives saved the British Empire on the battlefields of France, and Du Pont explosives tilted the balance of victory in favor of the American manpower effort. Capitalization of the Company in 1915 was $60,000,000. After the Armistice of 1918 Du Pont had $90,000,000 of surplus funds in its treasury. The basic Company policy required continuous reinvestment. The fine hand of John Jacob Raskob, who had originally left a $45-a-month job to start with Du Pont as a secretary, found the medium. $49,000,000 was put into Durant's General Motors and Du Pont took financial control.

There is no sanity in going further with figures. Everybody in this world, directly or indirectly, pays Du Pont for something. It is whispered that no candidate of either party running for office in Delaware has a Chinaman's chance of election unless Du Pont approves. (The term is used collectively to indicate a way of life.) That no one is elected to membership in the Wilmington Club, the Vicmead Hunt or the Wilmington Country Club unless, again collectively, Du Pont approves. That nothing is printed in the Du Pont-owned Wilmington papers unless DuPont approves.

Dupont Family Members

Two were United States senators. One has been married four times (you must be married five times to be an officer of that club). One, for whom du Pont Circle is named in Washington, broke the Atlantic naval power of the Confederacy from the deck of his flagship. One beat a nasty paternity suit in the Wilmington courts. One built the Equitable Building in New York. One tried to sue half the female population of Wilmington for libel. One was a ranking tennis champion. One married an Irish barmaid between boats at Queenstown—and never came home. One used to march in uniform in the Wilmington Police Band tooting a French horn. One even married a Hyde Park Boosevelt, for all the du Ponts' Republican tradition, and there is the logical place to leave them—if in Delaware you ever can.