Éleuthère Irénée du Pont


Éleuthère Irénée du Pont was born in France on June 24, 1771, and died on October 31, 1834, in the United States. He was the son of Pierre du Pont, an active member of the French government in the 1780s and 1790s before, during, and after the French Revolution. In keeping with the spirit of the times, Éleuthère Irénée was named for "liberty and peace." During the rise of Napoléon Bonaparte, Pierre was ordered into exile because of his continuing royalist sympathies. He took his family to the United States, where he later helped negotiate the U.S. purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France.

In 1787 Éleuthère Irénée du Pont worked at Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier's saltpeter plant in Essone, France. Here he was exposed to the craft of gunpowder manufacturing and to the application of Lavoisier's new chemistry to an industrial process. When du Pont arrived in the United States in 1800, he began to search for a potentially profitable business opportunity

French industrialist Éleuthère Irénée du Pont, who developed his company into the largest gunpowder manufacturer in the United States.
French industrialist Éleuthère Irénée du Pont, who developed his company into the largest gunpowder manufacturer in the United States.

and soon became aware of the unreliable and generally poor quality of domestic gunpowder at the time. After an unsuccessful attempt to purchase what was then the largest U.S. gunpowder plant located in Frankford, Pennsylvania, he purchased a mill on the Brandywine River in Delaware. This site had the advantage of existing mills with proven water power, nearby access to the port of Wilmington, local willow woods for charcoal, and a community of French-speaking workers. The mills were converted to the manufacture of gunpowder, and by 1811 E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. was the country's largest gunpowder manufacturing plant. It became the major supplier of gunpowder during the War of 1812.

On March 19, 1818, an accident at the plant triggered a series of explosions that killed thirty-six workers and destroyed five mill buildings. The company took years to rebuild and recover from this tragedy. In the process of rebuilding, safety became a lasting feature of corporate planning at DuPont. By the time of Éleuthère Irénée's death, DuPont was the primary manufacturer of gunpowder in the United States. As of 2003 it produces much more than gunpowder and is among the largest chemical manufacturers in the world.

SEE ALSO Lavoisier, Antoine .

David A. Bassett


Brown, G. I. (2000). The Big Bang: A History of Explosives. Gloucestershire, U.K.: Sutton Publishing.

Colby, Gerard (1984). Du Pont Dynasty. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart.

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