1802 1802 E. I. DuPont
Eleuthère Irénée (E.I.) du Pont (1771-1834) broke ground on July 19, 1802, for the company that bears his name. He had studied advanced explosives production techniques with the famous chemist Antoine Lavoisier. He used this knowledge and his intense interest in scientific exploration–which became the hallmark of his company–to continually enhance product quality and manufacturing sophistication and efficiency. He earned a reputation for high quality, fairness and concern for workers’ safety.
Eleuthère Iré́née du Pont at 20 years old
Wife Sophie Madeleine Dalmas du Pont, 1775–1828
E.I. du Pont was the younger of two sons born to Paris watchmaker Pierre Samuel du Pont who, by the 1780s, had become a noted political economist, a rising government official, and an advocate of free trade. At age 14, E.I. wrote a paper on the manufacture of gunpowder and, with his father’s assistance, gained a position at France’s central powder agency. There he had studied advanced explosives production techniques with the famous chemist Antoine Lavoisier. In 1791, after the onset of the French Revolution, he gave up powder-making to assist in his father’s small printing and publishing business. The du Ponts’ moderate political views proved a liability in revolutionary France. In 1797 a mob ransacked their printing shop and they were briefly imprisoned. In late 1799 they fled to America.
When he arrived in America in January 1800, E.I. brought much more than powder-making expertise and capital raised from French investors. He had spent several years studying botany and he shared his father’s ideals about scientific advancement and creating a harmonious relationship between capital and labor.
E.I. du Pont returned to France only once – in 1801 – to raise additional capital and to buy the latest powder-making equipment. He broke ground for his first powder mills on the Brandywine River on July 19, 1802. He spent the remainder of his life keeping them, going through explosions, floods, financial straits, pressures from nervous stockholders, and labor difficulties.
Although his personal reputation for honesty and renown for his company’s product eventually brought success, du Pont never relaxed his vigilance. E.I. was a pillar of the community, contributing to causes such as poor relief, help for the blind, and free public education. He was a Director of the Farmers Bank of the State of Delaware and the Second Bank of the United States. He was also an inventor and a gentleman scientist. E.I.’s wife, Sophie Dalmas du Pont, died in 1828. Three years later the American painter, Rembrandt Peale, captured the powderman’s sense of loss and the strain of constant worry about his company. In the fall of 1834, E.I. collapsed from heart failure while in Philadelphia on business. He died the next day, October 31, and was buried in the family cemetery along the Brandywine.