E.I. du Pont moved to the United States after the French Revolution. In 1802, he started a gunpowder mill on the Brandywine River in Delaware. His profits exploded when the U.S. government placed orders with him for the troops fighting in the War of 1812. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company lives on as DuPont, with headquarters in Delaware and offices around the world.
E.I. du Pont was born Éleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours on June 24, 1771, in Paris. His father, Pierre Du Pont de Nemours, was a watchmaker by trade and later a publisher. In the years before the French Revolution, Pierre advised the monarchy on economic matters and was connected to Louis XVI. As a youth, du Pont was not interested in academics, but showed a fascination with explosives, engaging in his own independent research. At age 14, he entered the Royal College in Paris, where he worked as an apprentice to renowned French chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier. Lavoisier advanced the young du Pont's knowledge of chemistry as well as botany and agriculture. A few years later, du Pont left the apprenticeship to manage his father's publishing house.
Around this time, du Pont met Sophie Madeleine Dalmas and was immediately smitten with her. After much persistence and convincing, du Pont was able to obtain Sophie's father's permission to marry her. They wed in 1791 and went on to have eight children.
Danger and a New Future
Like his father, du Pont initially supported the French Revolution, believing that the government could go through a peaceful transition to democracy. As the Revolution spun out of control in 1792, du Pont and members of his family found themselves defending the king from a mob besieging the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Though they succeeded in saving the king, the action made enemies within the revolutionary movement. As the Reign of Terror raged, Pierre du Pont narrowly escaped the guillotine in 1794. The du Pont family home was ransacked in 1797.
Two years later, Éleuthère Irénée and Pierre du Pont sailed to the United States to find safety for the family. They landed in Rhode Island on January 1, 1800, and eventually the rest of the family came over and settled in Delaware. While hunting with a friend, Colonel Louis de Toussard, Éleuthère noted that American-made gunpowder was poor in quality and very expensive. Sensing an opportunity, du Pont traveled back to France with his brother, Victor, to obtain plans, machinery and financial support to start a gunpowder business in the United States. In 1803, he established E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. on the Brandywine River near Wilmington, Delaware.
Success and Expansion
Du Pont was vigilant about the quality of his product. His efforts paid off, and by 1811, his company was the largest manufacturer of gunpowder in the United States. The du Ponts diversified their business, opening a woolen mill on the Brandywine River, as well as a cotton mill and a tannery, all of which were very successful.
With a big boost in business during the War of 1812, du Pont poured most of his profits into the expanding business. The company also had some setbacks, with two explosions between 1815 and 1818 that resulted in nearly 50 deaths and considerable financial loss. But the company rebounded and continued to prosper.
Later Life and Death
Du Pont served as president of the company for 32 years. His beloved wife, Sophie, died in 1828, bringing him much sadness. On October 31, 1834, Éleuthère Irénée du Pont died of heart failure. His descendants continued to grow the business, making it the second largest chemical company in the world.
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