DuPont de Nemours & Co., E. I. history
Founded by Eleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours (1771–1834) in 1802, the company began as a manufacturer of gunpowder. Born into an aristocratic French family, du Pont immigrated to the United States in 1800 with the intention of establishing a utopian community in Virginia. The venture failed, and du Pont took up the manufacturing of gunpowder instead, having learned chemistry from the French chemist Antoine LAVOISIER. The concept proved successful in the United States because American facilities for making gunpowder were poor.
He established a powder manufacturing facility in Delaware. Hearing of his reputation, Thomas Jefferson commissioned him to produce gunpowder. While demand for du Pont’s product increased rapidly, he was in financial difficulties until the War of 1812. When he died, the company had assets of around $320,000, and his factories were producing more than a million pounds of powder per year. During his lifetime, du Pont constantly heard criticisms about him being a merchant of death, especially since he originally had intended to start a model community.
During the Civil War, the company built a plant in New Jersey to manufacture dynamite, and for the remainder of the 19th century, the company continued to manufacture powders. In 1902, at the beginning of the 20th century, the DuPont Company was purchased by three great-grandsons of the founder—Thomas Coleman DuPont, Alfred Irénée DuPont and Pierre S. DuPont—and the company was given a new direction. Alfred DuPont (1864–1935) in particular was credited with saving the company from falling into outside hands in 1902. Known as an inventor and gunpowder specialist, he helped incorporate the company. The three renamed the company after the founder and established several research centers in order to develop new and improved products. The company also diversified into new businesses, including nonexplosives such as lacquer.
New ownership also provided the opportunity for the DuPonts to introduce new management techniques and a new structure for the company. They discarded the old company organizational structure and integrated it vertically in order to avoid waste and duplication. Following the new structure, the company began to manufacture many of its own supplies rather than purchase from outside vendors. Pierre DuPont also introduced many changes in accounting and financial planning that became the standard for years to come. The company emphasized its cost of capital when calculating returns on investment and introduced a financial ratio, now called the DuPont ratio, that measured return on investment differently from standard practice at the time. By World War I, it was producing onehalf the dynamite needs of the United States.
Toward the end of the war, the company began investing in the chemical and dye industry and in 1923 acquired the rights to manufacture cellophane. Pierre DuPont (1870–1954) left the company in 1920 to help rescue the GENERAL MOTORS CORP. from the prospect of BANKRUPTCY. Previously, the company had been persuaded by John RASKOB, a former DuPont treasurer, to invest $25 million in the auto manufacturer, and Pierre was persuaded to join the company to resuscitate its fortunes after the company had been wrestled from William C. Durant, its founder. In the 1920s and 1930s, the company continued its expansion into other chemicals, including resins and synthetic rubber. In 1935, two of its researchers developed nylon, described originally as a synthetic silk. During World War II, the company built and operated two plants that were part of the highly secret Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic bomb.
During the 1950s and 1960s, DuPont continued to develop a host of synthetic fibers and materials. In 1957, the company was found to be in violation of the CLAYTON ACT through its investment in GM, and it divested its holdings by 1961. In 1981, it acquired Conoco, an oil company, in what was the largest acquisition at the time. The acquisition almost doubled the size of the company and its revenues. Conoco was sold in 1999. DuPont also made investments in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries and became one of the leading producers of soy protein additives that were sold to other companies.
- Chandler, Alfred D. Pierre S. DuPont and the Making of the Modern Corporation. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.
- Dutton, William S. DuPont–One Hundred and Forty Years. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1942.
- James, Marquis. Alfred I. DuPont: The Family Rebel. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1941.
- Kinnane, Adrian. DuPont: From the Banks of the Brandywine to Miracles of Science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
- Taylor, Graham D., and Patricia E. Sudnik. Du Pont and the International Chemical Industry. Boston: Twayne, 1984.