A History of the du Pont Family in Delaware

Photos courtesy of the Hagley Museum and Library

Take a look back on the du Pont family’s timeline in Delaware, starting all the way from the 1700s and running to the present day.

Would Delaware be Delaware without the du Pont family? The First State’s first family has been inextricably intertwined with Delaware’s history since the dawn of the 19th century, when the early entrepreneurs built a gunpowder factory on the banks of the Brandywine River. In the 200-plus years since, the family helped launch the industrial revolution, created modern products that are now household names, produced a governor — and suffered the occasional scandal or two. One of their most lasting contributions to the state was and is their commitment to nature and preservation. With the sale of the family estate, Granogue Reserve, to another family estate, Longwood Gardens, earlier this year, we thought it was a good time to remember just who the du Ponts are and what they have meant to our state.

The du Pont Family (1927).

The 1700s

1739: Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours born (d. 1817) in Paris, the son of a Parisian watchmaker and descendant of a minor noble family.

1767: His first son, Victor-Marie du Pont (1767–1827), born. Victor-Marie was attaché to the first French legation to the newly declared United States (1787), aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Lafayette (1789–91), second secretary of the French legation (1791–92) and first secretary (1795–96).

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1771: The second son, Eleuthère-Irénée (E.I.) du Pont, (1771–1834), born. He worked at the French royal powder works.

Admiral Samuel Francis du Pont (1862).

The 1800s

1800: Pierre, E.I. and Victor-Marie, leave France and settle in the United States to seek business opportunities.

1801: The articles of partnership are signed for E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company in Paris.

1802: E.I. du Pont, noting the poor quality and high price of American powder, establishes a gunpowder plant on the Brandywine River near Wilmington. It becomes very successful, especially during the War of 1812. After two of his own business attempts fail in New York, Victor-Marie moves south to manage his brother’s woolen mills in Wilmington. He was later a director of the Bank of the United States, in Philadelphia.

1803: Victor-Marie’s son, Samuel Francis du Pont (1803–65), born. He became a U.S. naval officer, served in the Mexican War, helped create the curriculum for the Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD, and was a commander during the blockade of the South during the Civil War, eventually achieving the rank of rear admiral. After he led a failed naval attack on the defenses of Charleston, SC, in 1863, he was relieved of command and retired from active duty.

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1834: E.I. du Pont dies. According to the company, E.I. was “a pillar of the community,” supporting poverty relief, help for the blind and free public education. He was a bank director, an inventor and a “gentleman scientist.” In the fall of 1834, he collapsed from heart failure in Philadelphia and died the next day, October 31. He is buried in the family cemetery along the Brandywine.

Irénée du Pont
Irénée du Pont (1920).

The 1900s

1902: Three du Pont cousins — T. Coleman, Pierre S. and Alfred I. du Pont — purchase the company from their older relatives. They transform it from an explosives manufacturer into a broad, research-based chemical company. They modernize management, build research labs and create and market new products like paints, plastics and dyes.

Early 1900s: Irénée du Pont (1876-1963), who presided over the DuPont company from 1919-1926, purchases four contiguous farms comprising more than 500 acres. “He built a colonial revival-style home spacious enough for his family of nine children. The house was constructed from 1919-1923 and situated on a hilltop with spectacular views across the Brandywine Valley,” says Patricia Evans, Public Relations Officer and Associate Vice President, Marketing and Communications at Longwood Gardens. It was known as Granogue. “Years later, the estate would become the beloved family home of the next generations, Irénée du Pont, Jr. (‘Brip’) and Barbie du Pont, Jr., and their five children. Garnering local popularity, Granogue was often used by local organizations to hold events and fundraisers. Much of the 505-acre property is actively farmed for corn, soy, hay and dairy production, with large sections of forest, pasture and meadow.”

1920s: The company begins its expansion into textiles (developing the synthetic fibers nylon, lycra and rayon) and other products (including lucite, teflon, mylar, kevlar and tyvek).

1920: Pierre S. du Pont becomes president of General Motors. Under Pierre, DuPont had invested $50 million in GM between 1917 and 1919, becoming the largest stockholder. He will serve as president of GM until 1923 and remain on the board until 1929.

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1935: Alfred I. duPont, through his last will and testament, establishes the Trust that later formed the Nemours Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to the health of children.

1940: The Alfred I. duPont Institute opens in Wilmington. This is the first healthcare institution established by the Nemours Foundation. It quickly becomes a leader in pediatric orthopedics, known today as Nemours Children’s Hospital.

1977: Pierre Samuel “Pete” du Pont IV (1935-2021) is elected the 68th governor of Delaware. A former United States representative for Delaware from 1971 to 1977, he serves as governor until 1985 and unsuccessfully runs for president in 1988.

Pete du Pont governor of Delaware
Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Daniel L. Herrmann swears in Pete du Pont for his second term as governor (1981).

1981: DuPont Acquires Conoco oil company, breaking the record for the largest merger in U.S. history at the time.

The 2000s

2016: Longwood and Granogue Reserve begin discussions about the future of the property, which are finalized in 2023. “While a preliminary study, including a site master plan and business modeling, was developed in 2018-2019, Longwood has no immediate plans to activate extensive programming or paid access to the property. This acquisition is, first and foremost, an act of conservation,” Evans says. With the acquisition, no trespassing is allowed at Granogue. Please contact Longwood Gardens for more information about public permissions and visitation.

2016: Forbes magazine reports that the family fortune is estimated at $14.3 billion, and the du Pont family includes more than 3,500 living relatives.

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