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British Industrial History

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E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Co

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Better known as Dupont

At the age 14, Frenchman Éleuthère Irénée du Pont wrote a paper on the manufacture of gunpowder and, with his father’s assistance, gained a position at France’s central gunpowder agency where he studied advanced explosives production techniques with the famous chemist Antoine Lavoisier.

1800 E.I. du Pont arrived in America

1801 E.I. du Pont returned to France to raise additional capital and to buy the latest powder-making equipment.

1802 Construction of his first powder mills on the Brandywine River.

1834 E.I. du Pont collapsed from heart failure while in Philadelphia on business and died.

The business continued to be owned by the family.

One of E.I. du Pont's grandsons worked hard to improve explosives production through innovative machinery and methods.

1902 Three young du Pont cousins purchased the company from their older relatives. They began to transform it from an explosives manufacturer into a broad, science-based chemical company. They established the Experimental Station near the old powder plant on the Brandywine and the Eastern Laboratory at Repauno.

DuPont extendted its research efforts, inventing and improving new products and furthering basic scientific knowledge in the process.

Since the early 1900s, DuPont's labs have conducted two types of research: "Applied research" focuses on developing new products or finding new uses for existing ones, and "Basic research" pursues scientific questions not necessarily connected to any specific product or market, but on the faith that science will eventually open up new possibilities. Over the last century DuPont has always remained committed to research, although the emphasis given to each variant has continually shifted.

1910s: The product departments such as Explosives, Paint and Dyestuffs set up their own applied research facilities. This effort to apply scientific research directly to the development of specific products and production methods proved successful, yet the company continued to maintain its centralized basic research efforts in the Chemical Department.

WWI DuPont's work on dyestuffs gave the company a grounding in organic chemistry in response to national need.

Late 1920s: The Frigidaire subsidiary of General Motors developed an inert, non-toxic, and odourless replacement chlorofluorocarbon gas (CFC) gas called Freon. GM asked DuPont to develop the product on a large scale, and a plant was built at Deepwater, New Jersey, in 1930.

DuPont scientists discovered that Freon also made an effective aerosol propellant. Related CFCs also proved effective as degreasing agents and as the basis for Teflon, a remarkably durable and inert plastic.

Freon products were produced and marketed through a joint DuPont-GM venture until 1949, when the operations came under the control of Du Pont's Organic Chemicals Department.

1930 the Chemical Department's Wallace Hume Carothers discovered Neoprene synthetic rubber and also Nylon, the first true synthetic fibre.

Post-WWII DuPont redoubled its efforts to find the next nylon-like product.

Early 1950s: In response to ICI's move into the USA, DuPont’s Organic Chemical Department laid plans to enter the British rubber market by building a neoprene plant.

1957 Du Pont Co (UK) started building the plant in Northern Ireland.

By 1960, the company's explosive growth (spurred by the 1930s discoveries) had slowed, convincing the company to redouble its commitment to basic research, seeking dramatic breakthroughs in building materials and electronics, as well as more traditional products. Few of these ventures paid off.

1970s: The economic downturn forced DuPont to retrench, and cut back basic research. The company began to rely more heavily on acquisition than research to augment and diversify its product bases, culminating in the purchase of Conoco Oil in 1981.

1984 Opened a life sciences research complex.

1990 Introduced new products as replacements for CFCs, initially in vehicle air conditioning.

By the late 1990s, DuPont had redefined itself as a "discovery company," emphasizing the bright possibilities of science rather than the hazards.

1990s Consumer anxiety over genetically modified crops, especially in European markets, was a sober reminder that different groups saw scientific progress in different ways.

DuPont's research mission, carried out in 75 laboratories around the world, still aims to balance conservative cautions with the vision of an "adventuring argosy."

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