Du Pont, Eleuthère Irénée


Du Pont, Eleuthère Irénée (1771-1834) Businessman: Du Pont was born in France in 1771, into an aristocratic family. His father had been an inspector general of commerce in the Royal Cabinet before the French Revolution. In 1800, after making an unsuccessful attempt to work in publishing, du Pont came to the United States. His dream of setting up a utopian French colony of émigrés in Virginia fell through because of insufficient capital. Finally, du Pont began to manufacture gunpowder. He had worked as an apprentice with Antoine Lavoisier, the great French chemist, and knew a great deal about gunpowder quality. Surprised at the lack of good-quality gunpowder available, du Pont set up the Elutherian Mills near Wilmington, Delaware, along the Brandywine Creek. In 1801, he received his first business order - a request from President Thomas Jefferson to refine some saltpeter. Although the business was in uncertain financial circumstances for a number of years, du Pont maintained his determination to succeed. He bought up his investors' holdings when they refused to reinvest in improvement and expansion, although this placed him deeply in debt. By 1811, du Pont's mills were the largest of any industry in the United States, and were turning a profit of $45,000. In 1818, there was an explosion in a factory which killed forty of his workers. Du Pont's response was to provide pensions, education, housing, and medical care for the families of the victims, although such action was neither required by law nor expected by social norms. By the time of his death, in 1834, he was worth over $300,000, and his factories in Delaware were producing over a million pounds of explosives a year. In 1935, in light of du Pont's utopian views and the prevailing pacifism of the time, the Du Pont firm adopted the slogan, "Better Things for Better Living - Through Chemistry." This helped change the public image of the firm, previously called a "merchant of death." Since then, the firm has focused primarily on synthetic consumer products. Du Pont first marketed nylon in 1938, and produces familiar trademarks such as Dacron, Duco, Mylar, and Lucite. One hundred and fifty years after its founding, Du Pont's business empire was worth almost 5,000 times as much as it was at his death.