DuPont Company

DuPont Company

▪ American company
in full  E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company 

      American corporation engaged primarily in biotechnology and the manufacture of chemicals and pharmaceuticals. The company was founded by Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771–1834) in Delaware in 1802 to produce black powder and later other explosives, which remained the company's main products until the 20th century, when it began to make many other chemicals as well. DuPont has plants, subsidiaries, and affiliates worldwide. Its headquarters are in Wilmington, Del.

      As a young French émigré, du Pont discovered that a good prospect for business in America would be the milling of gunpowder. Returning to Paris, he found investors, and on April 21, 1801, the articles of partnership were signed for E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. On July 19, 1802, he settled along the Brandywine Creek near Wilmington, Del., and hired workmen to build his powder mills. The first black powder was marketed two years later; sales rose yearly, especially during the War of 1812, and by the time of his death his mills were a major American enterprise.

      Blasting powders for industries, mines, and quarries were becoming more important, and in 1857 the company produced a “soda powder” that was the first strictly industrial explosive. In 1880 DuPont began manufacturing nitroglycerin and dynamite.

      The company first incorporated in 1899, after nearly a century as a partnership. In 1907 it became the target of a U.S. antitrust suit because of its near-monopoly of the American explosives industry, and in 1912 DuPont was forced to divest itself of a major proportion of its gunpowder business. In 1917 the company began buying an interest in General Motors Corporation and owned 25 percent of the stock at the end of 1925. In 1962, after 13 years of antitrust litigation, DuPont was ordered to divest itself of GM stock.

      In 1904, as a by-product of its manufacture of explosives, DuPont began producing a special nitrocellulose for lacquers, leather finishes, and so on. The firm expanded into the manufacture of nitrocellulose plastics in 1915, and DuPont's purchase of a number of firms in 1917 added product lines such as dyestuffs, paints, acids, and heavy chemicals. Its history of creating synthetic polymers made DuPont a world leader in the development of commercial polymers. DuPont introduced neoprene synthetic rubber in 1931 and nylon in 1938. Some of the more well-known synthetic materials developed by DuPont include Lucite, Teflon, Orlon, Mylar, Kevlar, Tyvek, and Dacron.

      As the firm's product lines changed, so did its corporate management. From 1802 to 1940 all heads of the company had been members of the du Pont family, and all but one (a son-in-law, presiding 1834–37) had borne the du Pont name. This control had been reinforced in 1915 by creation of the Christiana Securities Company, whose major stockholders were du Ponts and which had effective control (28 percent) of the shares of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company (newly incorporated that year). By the 1970s, under the tax laws, however, the du Ponts found the setup disadvantageous and in 1977 succeeded (after lengthy litigation) in having Christiana merged into the DuPont Company. Direction of the company was passing to persons unrelated to the du Ponts, and the company's structure was changing: after 1940 only one chief executive was a du Pont (1962–67), and the company underwent extensive departmental reorganizations in 1967 and 1973–76, largely to streamline operations in the face of stiffening foreign competition. In the 1980s DuPont acquired Conoco (ConocoPhillips), Inc. (Continental Oil Company; spun off in 1998) and other companies in its efforts to diversify further.

      DuPont makes a broad array of industrial polymers, synthetic fibres, and industrial chemicals. The company also produces petroleum-based fuels and lubricants, pharmaceuticals, building materials, sterile and specialty packaging materials, cosmetics ingredients, and agricultural chemicals.

Additional Reading
Graham D. Taylor and Patricia E. Sudnik, Du Pont and the International Chemical Industry (1984), focuses on DuPont as a business and on its international relations. David A. Hounshell and John Kenly Smith, Jr., Science and Corporate Strategy: Du Pont R&D, 1902–1980 (1988), written with the full cooperation of the company, covers company policy and economic strategy as well as the company's development of chemicals.

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Universalium. 2010.

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