Du Pont’s Early Life and Education
Éleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours (1771–1834) was born in Paris, France. His family were Huguenots (Protestants). His given names derive from the Greek words for “freedom” [eleutheria] and peace [eirēnē], respectively.
Du Pont’s father, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, was a distinguished political economist, author, and politician. In 1784, the king ennobled Pierre Samuel for his accomplishments, when the title “de Nemours.”
In 1785, du Pont fils entered the Collège Royal (now Collège de France) in Paris. Two years later, he was accepted as an apprentice by the pioneering chemist Antoine Lavoisier, who was a friend of his father’s.
Éleuthère Irénée began to work with Lavoisier at the Régie des poudres et salpêtres [Administration for Gunpowder and Saltpeter]. There, he learned about the extraction of nitrates and the manufacture of gunpowder.
A few years later, Du Pont followed his mentor when the latter relocated to a provinicial government munitions facility. However, in 1792 Lavoisier lost his position (he would eventually lose his life during the Reign of Terror) and Éleuthère Irénée returned to Paris, where he joined his father in a publishing endeavor the elder man had begun with money he had borrowed from Lavoisier.
Both the father and the son were initially sympathetic to the Revolution. They published a pro-Republican newspaper, and the father was even a member of a Jacobin militia.
However, the Du Ponts refused to go along with the arrest and execution of King Louis XVI and his Queen, Marie Antoinette. In fact, they were involved in the physical defense of the royal couple when the Tuileries palace was stormed by a mob in August of 1792.
This defense effort, of course, failed. The king and queen were taken prisoner (and were eventually guillotined), while Pierre Samuel was arrested and condemned to death, as well.
Even so, the family continued to suffer from ongoing agitation against the nobility, culminating in the sacking of the Du Pont family home in 1797.
Two years later, in 1799, the whole family moved to the United States. They arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, on New Year’s Day of 1800.
Du Pont’s Career
Just two years arriving in the New World, on New Year’s Day of 1802, Éleuthère Irénée founded Eleutherian Mills, a gunpowder manufacturing facility situated on the Brandywine River in Delaware, north of Wilmington. The following summer, in July of 1802, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company was officially incorporated.
The mill began producing gunpowder for the market in 1804. The methods Du Pont had learned during his time working with Lavoisier made his product better than any other powder produced in North America.
The Du Pont company would go on to become one of the most-successful corporations in the America. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Du Pont was the largest purveyor of gunpowder to the US military. During the Civil War, about 40-percent of the Union Army’s gunpowder supplies were met by the company.
Du Pont was also the founder of an enduring dynasty of influential individuals on the American business, high-society, and political scene. Among the most prominent of them were the following.
Among the next generation of grandchildren, born around mid-century, Alfred I. du Pont not only inherited money from his family, but also founded a real estate and banking empire in Florida, becoming a multimillionaire and socialite in his own right.
Finally, among the great-grandchildren, born towards the end of the nineteenth century, we may mention Henry F. du Pont, a noted art collector, animal breeder, and horticulturalist, and Pierre S. du Pont, an entrepreneur and financier, who struggled with Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., for control of the General Motors corporation, as well a board member of the group that built the Empire State Building.
It is worth noting that Henry F. du Pont came by his interest in animal breeding and horticulture honestly, seeing that botany was one of Éleuthère Irénée’s scientific avocations.
Over time, the Du Pont company expanded its operations from gunpowder and explosives to general industrial chemistry. The company pioneered the development of such well-known products as paint, nylon, and—controversially—napalm.
Books Released by E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Company
Dupont: The Autobiography of an American Enterprise; The Story of E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Company, Published in Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Founding of the Company on July 19, 1802 (1952).
Blasters’ Handbook: A Manual Describing Explosives and Practical Methods of Us (175th Anniversary Edition) (1977).
Books About E.I. Du Pont, the Du Pont Company, and the Du Pont Dynasty
Bilott, Robert, Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle against DuPont (2020).
Chandler, Alfred D. and Stephen Salsbury, Pierre S. du Pont and the Making of the Modern Corporation(1971).
Colby, Gerard, Du Pont Dynasty: Behind the Nylon Curtain (1984).
Dorian, Max, The Du Ponts: From Gunpowder to Nylon (1962).
Duke, Marc, The Du Ponts: Portrait of a Dynasty (1976).
Du Pont, Bessie Gardner, E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company, a History, 1802–1902 (1920).
Du Pont, Bessie Gardner, ed., Life of Éleuthère Irénée Du Pont from Contemporary Correspondence (twelve volumes) (1923).
Dutton, William S., Du Pont; One Hundred and Forty Years (1942).
Ferrari, Michelle, Pierre S. Du Pont: A Rare Genius (2009).
Ferraro, James L., Blindsided: The True Story of One Man’s Crusade Against Chemical Giant DuPont for a Boy with No Eyes (2019).
Gates, John D., The Du Pont Family (1979).
Hounshell, David A. and John Kenly Smith, Jr., Science and Corporate Strategy: Du Pont R and D, 1902–1980 (1988).
Kerr, George H., Du Pont Romance, a Reminiscent Narrative of E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company (1938).
Kinnane, Adrian, DuPont: From the Banks of the Brandywine to Miracles of Science (2002).
Linz, Maggie, The Du Ponts: Houses and Gardens in the Brandywine (2009).
Lord, Ruth, Henry F. du Pont and Winterthur: A Daughter`s Portrait (1999).
Miller, Daniel DeKalb, Chateau Country: Du Pont Estates in the Brandywine Valley (2013).
Mulrooney, Margaret M., Black Powder, White Lace: The du Pont Irish and Cultural Identity in Nineteenth-Century America(2022).
Ndiaye, Pap A., Nylon and Bombs: DuPont and the March of Modern America (2007).
Rideal, Charles Frederick, The History of the E.I. Du Pont de Nemours Powder Company: A Century of Success(1912).
Wall, Joseph Frazier, Alfred I. du Pont: The Man and His Family (1990).
Wilkinson, Norman B., E.I. du Pont, Botaniste: The Beginning of a Tradition (1972).
Wingate, P.J., The Colorful Du Pont Company (1982).
Winkler, John K., The Du Pont Dynasty (1935).