When North-American speak of such spectacular feats of modern engineering as the Hoover Dam, the Golden bridge, the "big inch"
(that long pipeline through which oil is moved to markets), or the Tennessee valley authority, they describe them in such words as
"tremendous", "great", "biggest". All of these depended upon dynamite for their construction. An Italian named Ascanio Sobrero
discovered nitgroglycerin in mid-19th century. He was so frightened by the sensitivity and power of the substance, that he would not
continue his experiments, not even to make it safe to handle.
It was Alfred Nobel, the swedish scientist who, twenty years later hit upon the idea of mixing minimum quantities of nitroglycering with
sandy earth to make it plastic enough to handle, so that it could be made into sticks. He called those sticks dynamite. The Du Pont family
in North-America pioneered in the manufacture of this explosive after the civil war. However, the foundation of their great enterprise was
laid in 1802, with the manufacture of black gunpowder, the ammunition for early rifles and cannon. On the first day of the 19th century,
Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, one of the foremost men of France before the French revolution, landed in North-America with his
sons, Eleuthere and Victor and their wives and children. France was in anarchy and they sought a new home in America. Eleuthere had
studied the making of "black gunpowder under the brilliant French scientist and chemist, Lavoisier.
America was sadly in need of a good black powder. Eleuthere realized this as he paid a high price for poor quality powder to use for
hunting. He decided then to go into the business of powder making. In time, he felt this would enable him to earn a salary of $10,000 a year.
On the Brandywine Creek in Delaware, the family purchased ninety-five acres and set up the Eleutherian powder Miss. Willow trees grew
along the creek. These trees made the best kind of charcoal used in powder making. Buildings were constructed with triple-thick walls.
It was felt that if an explosion took place the walls would be left standing, eventhought the roofs might be blown off.
The du Ponts made a superior gunpowder which was soon in great demand. It "went West" with the pioneers for their long rifles. It was
used in the struggles with the indians, against the British in the war of 1812, and the Mexicans in 1844. It was carried by Americana frigates
to the coast of Africa in the dispute with the barbary pirates. It helped the North to win the civil war. For over one hundred and fifty years,
the Du Pont family has conduct its affairs under the simple dictum laid down by Peirre Samuel Du Pont: "No privilege exists that is not
necessarily bound to duty". This duty meant careful planning, frigility in business operation and putting profits back into the business, so
that they could continue to make the best gunpowder possible.
Duty also meant risks for the Du Ponts and their workers. It meant that the company had to assume financial aid to families who suffered
losses when explosions or fires took place. In the Du Pont family itself, several members were killed in plant explosions. The company
was organized in a special way. There were no company officers. The one who was considere best suited to heas the business was given
the job. Funds were drawn from profits for the living expenses of the family. These expenses were kept at a minimum. Eleuthere, the first head
of the business, recived a salary of $1,800 a year. As the head of the business he wrote all letters in longhand by the light of candles, long
after kerosene lamps were used. One chore boy considered sufficient office force. Whatever was not considered necessary had no place
in the business. There were no "new-fangled" machines like typewriters until long after they had been in general use.
It is difficult to believe that when the Du Ponts first went into business, chemistry was not taught in American colleges. As soon as it did
become a subject, some of the younger Du Ponts studied it. Other members of the family, who did not go to college, took their places
in the company in whatever capacity they were needed. Back in the 1880's it was Lammot Du Pont who started the laboratories that
gave the world an astounding number of products that were the result of chemical research. Lammot was graduated from the University
of Pennsylvania where he had sutdied chemistry. He wanted the firm to manufacture dynamite. The head of the company, who at that time
was Henry Du Pont, the son of Eleuthere, did not want to have anything to do with dynamite. He called dynamite "blasting oil" and considered
it too dangerous to manufacture. But Lammot persuaded Henry to allow him to set up a plant in New Jersey. Two years later (1884), Lammot
was killed by this explosive. The company, however, continued making dynamite and undertook to train men in its precision use.
Among the inventors who came to work at the Du Pont laboratories was Hudson Maxim. Maxim had worked out a formula for smokeless
powder and the formula was bought and developed by Du Pont. Maximite, named for the inventor, is used for high-explosive shells. During
world war I it was of particular effectiveness against German armored vessels. It was after world war I that the Du Ponts bought a large
share in the General Motors corporation and went into technical work in the automotive field. One of the problems at that time was how
to paint automobiles in different colors. A quick drying paint was needed. A Du Pont chemist happened on the formula by chance.
The chemist, who was working on movie film at the time, was interrupt by an electric power failure. The preparation for the film had to be
used immediatly, but when the power failed, the chemist dumped the mixture into a barrel of nitrocellulose outside the laboratory door and
forgot about it. Three days later he remembered the mixture and looked into the barrel. To his amazement, he found a syrupy liquid at the
bottom of the barrel where there should have been a gelatinous substance. the new liquid proved to be the perfect base for the quick-drying
paint that the company had been seeking.
Four millions parachutes from nylon (a substance that Du Pont developed from petroleum, brine and air); sucite, for a half million domes
for the cockpits of airplanes; over fifty thousand miles of movie film; nylon plies or layers for a half million bomber tires; dyes for ten
millions uniforms; cellophane enough to form a ribbon eleven feet wide stetching from the earth to the moon. All of these products and many
more came from Du Pont during world war II. Since then, the Du Pont chemists, through research, have given us fabrics that are drip-dry,
grease-resistant, and weightless. Du Pont turns out over a thousand products for making such synthetic products as dacron, nylon, the
acrylics and many more are always being developed.
The mid-20th century is a long way from the early 19th century when Eleuthere Du Pont thought $10,000 a year would be a wonderful
salary. Though over half of Du Pont's employees today are stockholders, it is still a "family business". The vast Du Pont enterprises have
contributed greatly to the development of North-America, as well as the rest of the world.