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Henry du Pont walked quickly from his home to his office, in his hand a swinging lantern with its flickering light casting little more than a weak beam that failed to stab the darkness effectively, but the thirty paces to the office door were so well known that the light was unnecessary. Only when he reached that door were the lantern's slight rays helpful in locating the keyhole. Henry du Pont approached the door with directness in every move. Into his pocket went his hand to extract the worn key that had seen thirty years of service by his father — it was to more than double its life in the hands of this partner in the firm of E. I. du Pont de Nemours Gun Powder Manufactory. Henry, son of the original founder of the firm, was to meet with his younger brother, Alexis Irénée, and his nephew, Eleuthère Irénée 2d, on this night in 1850 to form the new partnership with himself as senior partner. No bottle of spirits decorated the rude desk; no hilarity revolved about this meeting. Carefully Henry pulled himself up to the desk lighted by three candles — candles that were placed so that the new one would be on the left where its light would do the most good, the partially burned candle of the previous night in the center, and the shortest one with two days' life behind it on the right. Candles would light his desk as long as Henry lived. The newfangled coal‑oil lamp, the gas light, or the later invention of the incandescent light were not of his choosing, nor of his toleration. Thriftily, the candle on the right performed the lantern duty before it was finally burned completely.1
p192 At eight-thirty on the dot, the other partners, Alexis and Irénée 2d appeared. They knew that Henry, the new senior partner, looked upon tardiness as a cardinal sin. Each in turn, according to George Kerr, biographer of the Du Pont clan, "addressed himself . . . to the family bootjack," pulling off his high leather boots and replacing them with house slippers of the ankle length, grandfather type.
Though there is no record of that first meeting of the new partners of the Du Pont family powder business, there is no reason to believe that they drank a toast to the occasion, nor did they waste time in the intricacies of labor relations, and search for new markets. The finances of the business were not of the best, and their half million dollars of indebtedness called for earnest endeavors from the partners and from every member of the works. Henry's disciplined training at West Point would look to the salvaging of every waste material, and the prevention of waste. Discipline applied to cautious management of the firm was to be the watchword. Though the business was in debt, this was no cause for Henry to raise his voice because at all times he was completely self-possessed, with a self-assurance and self-sufficiency that made him at times appear cold. No wonder he was known by the French term of homme . The business of the new partnership being completed, there was no lingering by Henry to indulge in pleasantries or in appraisal of the new firm. All appreciated the position of the powder works. Their application would be an expected part of their life. If it meant obedience to routine and lack of self-indulgence, then that too could be expected and lived. Eventful decisions awaited Henry as he blew out the candles one by one.
From that day, Henry remained the head of the firm for thirty-nine momentous years — years which brought new approaches to business and the crowning of the Industrial Revolution in America. Du Pont grew with the times, sometimes willingly, sometimes under pressure. Henry, the proprietor, amassed a fortune of fifteen million dollars in his quiet, methodical p193 manner. In appraising him, one might well ask: Where did this man obtain his business acumen? Did his military education have any bearing upon his successful management of the firm?
To be born a Du Pont, like this second son Eleuthère Irénée, was of some consequence among workers of America's first great powder works. To be a Du Pont meant that in France and among economic theorists and practitioners, the member had certain duties and certain abilities which raised him above ordinary people.
By 1812, the family had not risen to fortune, though they were known to fame when young Henry was born at Eleutherian Mills, in Christiana Hundred, New Castle, Delaware. In that same house in which he first opened his eyes in his nursery, Henry lived, married and died. His office, when he had returned from the army and decided to become a member of the firm, was then and remained always only thirty paces from his front door. Circumscribed though his life may have appeared to be, no such appraisal may be made of that of his ancestors.
Young Samuel du Pont, of Huguenot belief, lived up to the reputation of his people of kindred faith by leaving the soil of Rouen for the watchmaking profession in Paris. He married the daughter of a watchmaking family, Anne de Montchanin, also a Huguenot. After the death of his wife, Samuel bent their son Pierre to the watchmaking trade, finding him an exceptional apprentice, even though his love of book learning often distracted from his wholehearted interest in the business. When the son Pierre veered too far from the path laid down by the strict parent, he took his flogging. Having satisfied his father's bent for parental indulgence with the knout, Pierre left home forever. From a life of flogging and watchmaking, he changed to one of discussion, writing and study of philosophy. Though his beliefs could not leave the political arena of his contemporaries Voltaire and Rousseau, the money-getting propensity of the Huguenot shone through p194 his thinking so that he was able to join with François Quesnay and Jean de Gournay in their school of Economistes. Shortly their philosophy matured into the belief underlying that of the Physiocrat's doctrine that "government is a necessary evil, the purpose of which is to limit the natural freedom of the individual only to the extent that he trespasses the rights of other individuals." Their belief in free trade, and opposition to "legislation undertaking to foster national prosperity by trade restriction" — all these thoughts on political economy had some hold upon Henry du Pont, the grandson of Pierre. Whether he acquired them from his grandsire or from his contemporaries is a moot point. Though the Physiocrats, as the roots of the name indicate, held "agriculture to be the fundamental pursuit," their beliefs were tempered a great deal by the changes in living occasioned by the Industrial Revolution. All the Du Ponts, though business men, retained a love of the soil. Henry, of course, looked upon it as a delightful avocation, and not his main work in life.
When the head of the clan, Pierre, died in 1817 at the age of seventy-seven, the E. I. du Pont de Nemours Powder Works, created by his son Eleuthère Irénée, was just coming into its own. The son had married Sophie Madeleine Dalmas and settled down in Christiana Hundred. Business had been good during 1812, and it was during that year that their second son, Henry, was born on August 8. For the previous ten years his father had been operating the Powder Works on the Brandywine River, •four miles from Wilmington. In the press of business, Irénée found time to write of his happy family and of his son, Victor, Henry, and Alexis. Their lives, as country youths, must have been busy ones. Whether they pursued the youthful schemes of building caves, of hunting, and of fishing, is not known. It is doubtful if their careful parent allowed them to play around the industrial plant because of the dangers of explosion. When he was three, chubby little Henry was bounced on the knee of his grandfather, Pierre, who had just escaped from France. In 1818, a terrific p195 explosion rocked the plant, killing 34 workmen and wounding Mrs. du Pont. Their home at Eleutherian Mills was seriously damaged, and the baby, Alexis, had "miraculously escaped hurt amid caving walls and flying stones." Where Henry was on this day is not stated. That night Irénée's family moved to the home of his brother, Victor, where they slept in the library.
When Henry du Pont had passed his tenth birthday he was sent off to Mr. Constant's Mount Airy Seminary, in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Life in that private school was not eventful and Henry grew up in a normal manner. Late in the fall of 1822, E. I. du Pont wrote to his wife that he had visited their "poor Henry." "The novelty of his surroundings has had a greater effect on him than I expected; he showed us much affection and tenderness . . . Henry cried as he asked me to go to see him often; which I shall certainly do as often as I can, especially to encourage him at first." Evidently Henry was at times rather sickly, for the following year E. I. du Pont wrote again to his wife that "he is an excellent patient, very gentle and very willing to do whatever he is asked to . . ." At this time Henry was completing his elementary school work and if at times he was homesick he nevertheless showed himself a real boy. In 1826 a significant change occurred at Mount Airy, as Colonel Augustus L. Roumfort, a former West Point graduate of 1817, who had been Professor of Mathematics, succeeded Mr. Constant in the headship of the school. The new Superintendent's military background was evidenced by his change of the name of the school to the "American Classical and Military Lyceum." For the next few years, until 1829, Henry du Pont came under the influence of the former West Pointer. Under him Henry received his first taste of military life. The influence of Lafayette upon his family, his French background, and the example of his cousin Samuel Francis, who became a navy midshipman direct from Mount Airy (there was no Naval Academy at this time) — these were probably the influences which determined the youth to apply for entrance to West Point. Though no record has been kept p196 of Henry's desire in maturity to enter the United States Military Academy, he must have confided his wants to his father on one of the latter's periodic visits. Early in 1829 E. I. du Pont wrote to his friend, A. C. Cazenove: "I shall be in Washington on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, trying to get a place at West Point for my son Henry. . . . If it happens that you know the Minister of War, or the President well enough to say a word in behalf of me and my son, you would do me a great service. . . ." Then with a sense of humor, the head of the powder firm concluded: "I am sure that I have much greater need for protection at court than you have in the Bank of the United States." The efforts in his son's behalf were successful, for on May 29 Mr. du Pont took his son to West Point and left him there. During the ensuing weeks young Henry underwent the entrance examinations. Because of his preparatory training under Colonel Roumfort he had no difficulty. His four years at West Point passed rather uneventfully. He seemed to encounter none of the difficulties which cadets like Edgar Allan Poe, in the class behind du Pont, underwent in plebe year. There was a singular lack of great military leaders who rose from the cadet classes at the Academy during du Pont's term. Perhaps the fact that so many of them entered civil life and that those who remained in the army died young, on the frontier, in the Indian wars in the South, and in the Mexican War, accounted for this. The nation at peace, as far as major wars were concerned during the 1830's, influenced many of these cadets to resign upon graduation, or soon afterward. Notable among the cadets during du Pont's four years were the Protestant Episcopal clergymen, Francis Vinton and Roswell Park (the latter was the educator of James McNeill Whistler, prior to his entrance to the Military Academy), and Henry Clay, son of the great statesman, who was killed at Buena Vista in the Mexican War. There was Bradford H. Alden, one of the first oil discoverers in Pennsylvania, George W. Cass, famous civil engineer and president of the Adams Express Company and of the Northern Pacific Railway. In his p197 own class the only well-known Civil War general was John G. Barnard, who fought on the Union side. George W. Cullum, though he also became a General, has been better known for his biographies of West Point graduates. Francis H. Smith, one of the best students in his class, was Superintendent of Virginia Military Institute for twenty-five years after the Civil War; Rufus King was a newspaper editor, school superintendent, and United States Minister to the Pontifical States.
Du Pont's four years at the Academy coincided with the final period of Colonel Sylvanus Thayer's regime. It was during these years that Thayer himself, a stubborn, strong man, came to cross purposes with President Andrew Jackson. West Point had improved greatly over the sprawled out, undisciplined institution it had been immediately after the War of 1812. New buildings had sprung up and a hotel on the grounds had been built for visitors. The instructors and professors had improved considerably. West Point was now producing men of high academic standing who could carry on the instruction so much desired by Thayer. One of the most notable of the professors was Dennis Hart Mahan, whose son wrote so profoundly on naval strategy, and whose "pupils helped build a nation," according to Dupuy's Where They Have Trod.
Upon graduation on July 1, 1833, Henry du Pont, whose academic rating was 21 in a class of 43, was brevetted a Second Lieutenant of the 4th Regiment of Artillery. After a graduation leave of absence at his home on the Brandywine, Lieutenant du Pont reported to Company C of his regiment at Fortress Monroe, Virginia. Soon afterwards the company, commanded by Captain Henry Galt, not a graduate of the Academy, clambered aboard a ship to sail with the remainder of the battalion to Savannah, Georgia. From that port they marched overland to Fort Mitchell, Alabama, an army post in the Creek Indian country. Life was comparatively quiet in that sector at that time because the Creek Indians since 1819 had been gradually undergoing the removal of their nation beyond the Mississippi River. The truly dangerous sector was p198 farther south in the Seminole country where that tribe was resisting its removal to the West. At Fort Mitchell, life was peaceful; du Pont appeared in no Indian engagements nor was he exposed to the dangers of massacre which plagued his brother officers in Florida. Eleuthère Irénée du Pont continued the same tender regard for his son that had marked their relationship all during his schooling. In a letter of December 8, 1833, the father asked one of his commercial agents in Augusta, Georgia, to forward a letter; in explanation he stated that the "son of the head of our firm is one of the military expedition that the Government is sending to the South and which should go through your City." The indulgent father in his company manner asked that the letter be delivered personally "to our dear Henry and we thank you now for the kindness that we feel sure you will show him; we also ask you to advance money to him if he needs it and let us know the amount." Lieutenant du Pont was unusually well situated financially among the younger army officers, and as rather valuable property his father was exceedingly fearful for his safety. To his agent he confided: "No one here believes in a Civil War in Alabama and we not understand the purpose of the Government in sending nearly all the available troops there. If you have any information in the matter, we will be very grateful if you will explain it." That same year the Du Pont Company had refused a huge order for cannon and musket powder from the State of South Carolina, where the nullification party was threatening to secede from the Union. The following spring Irénée was not above using his influence to remove Henry from the dangers of the southern country. He wrote to General Gratiot asking that, if possible, his son be detailed for duty on the Ohio Boundary the following summer. Captain Andrew Talcotta of the Engineers returned a polite note acknowledging the request and said that if he was allowed to select three assistants it would give him "pleasure to name your son also, should I find he possesses the necessary habits and qualifications for this service . . ." Finally the fond p199 father, with business cares hanging heavily on his aging frame, asked his son to enter the business. Dutifully, Lieutenant du Pont turned in his resignation on June 15, 1834, and reported to the powder works at once.
Before Henry had acclimated himself at the powder works, his father had died rather suddenly on the last day of October. Henry accordingly became an assistant to his brother-in‑law, James Antoine Bidermann, in the management end of the business. As a highly competent executive the latter had been at the side of E. I. du Pont for many years. While head of the firm he set about the dual job of "conditioning the sons to carry on the business and of paying as soon as possible the notes held in France by the original shareholders or their heirs." Henry, twenty‑two years of age, applied himself to managerial duties while Alfred, his older brother, a production man, continued his absorption in the scientific side of powder manufacture. Alexis, the youngest son, was only eighteen at the time. The business that Henry with his military background now entered, was an interesting one.
In 1836 Bidermann journeyed to France, paid off the notes in full, and then gracefully stepped out of the business. Upon his retirement, the company became a partnership, owned and controlled by the three sons of E. I. du Pont — Alfred, Henry, and Alexis. The peculiarity of this partnership method of running a growing business did not deter it from living a long life of sixty‑two years. The company had no officers, such as President, Secretary or Treasurer. The partners referred to one another as "our Henry du Pont," "our Alfred du Pont," the latter, of course, having a certain right of seniority. He it was who wrote and signed all letters and "his decisions were unhesitatingly accepted as final by his brothers." The property, including the powder works, the farm, and even the carriages and horses, was held in communal ownership. When the partners married, the company built homes for them. The partners received no salaries, and each drew upon his proportionate share of the profits for his expenses.
p200 Transportation was one of their difficult problems. Regular freight lines of wagons — a special type of Conestoga, designed to hold 150 •twenty-five pound kegs — operated from Philadelphia to Baltimore, Boston and Pittsburgh. Along the coast, powder was often shipped by schooner, but the low freight rate was a snare because cautious captains had a habit of throwing the powder overboard whenever their ships were in serious trouble. Eventually the company under Alfred built a pier and a magazine on the river near Wilmington. Because the railroads were for obvious reasons not too desirous of carrying explosives, the special Conestoga wagon with six‑mule teams became a familiar sight along the seaboard. The company tried to keep pace under Alfred with the rapidly expanding transportation problem, and attempted to supply the enlarged market for blasting and musket powder. Powder was used for blasting on all the new canals and railroads, so that that Du Pont Powder Works expanded and yet managed to keep free of debt in the dangerous time following the panic of 1837. Gradually, though, when debtors repudiated and agents went into bankruptcy, the powder makers of the Brandywine found the much-maligned Mexican War a means of bringing their books nearer to balance. A million pounds of powder purchased by the Government erased most of the debts that the company had fallen heir to. During the war new mills were erected on the other side of the creek and nearer to Wilmington. By 1848, 10,000 pounds of powder a day on a 24‑hour schedule, 14 of them under lamp light, was being produced by the Du Pont Company. Long hours and the shock caused by the loss of 18 lives in an explosion carried Alfred du Pont to semi-invalidism in 1850. He lived for eight more years, though not as the active head of the business.
Meanwhile Henry was carrying on, administering the business in his hard-working, thorough and efficient way. Aside from his business duties he found time to marry Louisa Gerhard, in 1837. They made their home in the family mansion p201 where he had been born. Furthermore, the young West Point graduate was named aide-de‑camp to the Governor of Delaware in 1841. After five years in that capacity he was elevated to the more important position of Adjutant General of the State of Delaware, a position which he held until the outbreak of Civil War. In 1850 he was a member of the Board of Visitors which inspected West Point for its academic and administrative functioning for the report to Congress. In this annual inspection it is doubtful if Henry du Pont, now known as "Mr. Henry," was too critical of the academic curriculum, for he was never known as a profound scholar. What probably interested him far more was the state of efficiency of the administration and a knowledge of what kind of powder the garrison was supplied with. Perhaps Henry du Pont had time to sit down for a talk with some of his classmates then on duty at West Point. Du Pont was not a convivial soul and even over any spirits which he may have allowed himself on a special occasion he very probably did not feel at home with his former classmates. The gulf between his life and theirs was great. Never again did he return to West Point as a member of the Board of Visitors, though he was on friendly terms with several of the Army Ordnance officers with whom he dealt in business.
With the failure of Alfred's health, Henry du Pont was ready and anxious to step into the senior partnership. His military and business training had added to his personality the characteristic of eagerness for command. At the memorable meeting on the night in 1850, it is certain that Henry spoke to his brother Alexis and his nephew, Eleuthère Irénée 2d, his partners, with determination. The situation confronting them was not pleasant, for there was an indebtedness of one half million dollars on the plant and no prospects of any great rush of business to pay it off. The picture of Henry as he faced the emergency is confused, except for general agreement that he was economical, cautious, and energetic. His son, Colonel Henry A. du Pont, also a West Point graduate, characterized p202 his father as a progressive and enterprising businessman whose management "was tempered by reasonable and proper caution . . ." Kerr, in his biography, said Henry "brought with him exacting habits which had forever stamped his character with self-possession, self-assurance, and self-sufficiency." Winkler called "Mr. Henry" "a peppery, positive person (who) had developed into an all‑around powder man and a cool, keen trader in matters financial." As he entered into the headship of the powder works he planned new agencies in the West where markets might be created; he sought to collect old debts held over from his father's time; he increased the efficiency of packing and shipping. If it was economical he made arrangements with other powder companies so that they might avoid unnecessary competition. Lastly, "he wrote to the various agents that he was satisfied that the powder could not be improved; the reduction of its price was to be the important consideration."
Henry du Pont did not fail the company in his thirty-nine years as active head. He worked long hours in a routine which only a man with his serious nature and patience could have followed. George H. Kerr, who worked for him, found "Mr. Henry's" routine invariable. Before breakfast at 8 o'clock, he had already been at the office to open and sort the mail. After a hasty meal he returned the few steps to his office to dispatch orders for the day and to attend to the more important matters which the mail had brought. By mid‑morning he was in his buggy under a stove-pipe hat, making the rounds of his own and the company's farmland. To all the countryside, his half dozen gray hounds trailing the top‑heavy rig, drawn by a sleek horse which the owner always called "Frank," was a picture instantaneously flashed to mind, when Henry du Pont's name was mentioned. In the box of the buggy was a handy trowel used by "Mister Henry" to wreak his passionate fury on a weed. George Kerr declared that it was the only weapon that Henry du Pont carried, "for he had no enemies save only those persons or things which serve no useful purpose p203 — weeds, whether they be on the farm or in the factory." While out in his buggy, the General never passed up a chance to talk with a pretty woman. Winkler in his Du Pont Dynasty remarked "Many a girl, walking along the road, was surprised to hear a cluck behind her, followed by a jovial invitation to jump into the famous buggy." Even in winter, Henry du Pont continued his daily ride. His stove-pipe hat was replaced by a hunting cap, with warm ear flaps; his knee-length leather boots by rubber ones.
Sometime after noon each week day, the senior partner returned to his office to go over the second mail and to check on occurrences of the morning. He loved cigars, but smoked only two a day. They were strong smokes, called "Henry Clays," and one was saved for period after each of the two main meals of the day. The afternoon was reserved for inspection of the mills and for correspondence. This was the invariable routine of Henry, and one he followed during all his years with the powder works.
After supper, the indefatigable proprietor returned to his desk, wearing a silk hat as his only concession to the lateness of the hour. One night as he was working he heard a whistling sound. Since the only mills in operation that neither were the glazing mills in the Upper Yard, Henry routed out the foreman and the two of them found the noise coming from an over-heated main shaft which was throwing off sparks. There was no time to lose and the General's silk hat made an excellent bucket to bring water from the creek. The danger of an explosion was averted, but the hat was ruined.
In his office the senior partner held nightly court for his employees. Patiently he listened to their troubles, advising, aiding and showing his simplicity of manner as he remembered each name. In his safe he kept a box where they could deposit their valuable papers. After that he turned to his correspondence. Twenty letters a day this indefatigable proprietor fashioned with his quill and the 14,000 of them, during forty years, were copied laboriously by his clerk. When the labor-saving p204 typewriter appeared on the market, Henry du Pont would have none of it. Patiently he would sit writing while his feet actually wore holes in the floor under his desk. This weekday routine was varied on Sunday by an occasional visit to church in the morning and calls on his relatives in the afternoon. Whether or not his wife ever revolted against this rather irksome absence of her husband is not known. Perhaps the fact that his office was only a few steps away and that he was home for all his meals made up in some measure for his long hours at his desk. One wonders too, if his wife was allowed to enter the office or whether this hard-working man barred her from his precincts.
The company prospered in the 1850's, due both to Henry's foresight and to world events. His first act as head of the firm "was to establish a branch sales agency in San Francisco to catch the dollars of the gold miners . . ."
The Crimean War in 1854 demanded more powder than could be supplied by English and French mills. The English Government called upon the Du Pont Company for powder, thereby helping to place the Company on a sound basis with sufficient earnings to weather the depression of 1857. At that time Lammot, second son of Alfred, succeeded Alexis, who was fatally wounded in an explosion. Lammot, one of the outstanding members of the Du Pont clan, had been graduated from the University of Pennsylvania only eight years before. Interesting himself as chemical engineer in the powder manufacture, he experimented successfully in the substitution of Chilean nitrate of soda for saltpeter, a more costly and scarcer product previously used in the manufacture of blasting powder. Henry referred to him proudly as "our chemist," perhaps because Lammot's patent made possible the utilization of vast soda nitrate deposits in South America. Since this new soda powder was cheaper and equally as effective as the black powder used in coal mining, the anthracite regions at once became a huge market. The Du Pont Company then purchased its first outside mill. It was called Wapwallopen, from a creek p205 of the same name in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Here for the first time Henry du Pont reached out rather boldly to place a mill geographically close to market; here also he ventured to operate a plant which would not be supervised by a full-time Du Pont manager. Wapwallopen was a success from the start and Henry had shown himself less narrow in his conception of management than had been forecast by his previous actions.
All was not smooth sailing for the senior partner during the decade prior to the Civil War. Tragedies followed one another closely. In 1854 three Du Pont Conestoga wagons lumberingly moved down the cobblestone streets of Wilmington with 450 kegs of powder. The kegs were of the new type, a patented metallic container, which Alexis had invented. These were thought to be superior to, and safer than, the former wooden kegs. Suddenly an explosion occurred, blowing to bits the three drivers, eighteen mules, and two passers‑by. Houses near by, particularly the Bishopstead of Bishop Lea, were wrecked. Immediately the nation's headlines screamed antagonism to the Du Pont Company and as a result "powder wagons were banned from the streets of practically every city . . ." The cause of the disaster was never determined; and the Du Pont works for many years continued to use the metal containers without any repetition of the tragedy, but the unpleasant notoriety gained in the initial trial bedeviled the Company for many years.
Three years later a more personal tragedy took Henry's younger brother, Alexis. The dismantling of a mill in Hagley Yard caused sparks which carried to an adjoining mill. Alexis, who was superintending the job, attempted without thought of danger to put out the fire but the mill blew up, wounding him fatally and taking the lives of several workmen. During the few remaining hours of life, Alexis from his deathbed insisted on saying good‑by to the men of the mill. "Overalled veterans of the powder line," said Kerr, "came in for hours to the sickroom of their dying friend to press his hand . . ." Henry undoubtedly felt grief in the loss of his young brother, p206 but soon turned to the work of making sure that the mills ground on. The tribal rule called for replacement of the lost partner, and Lammot, son of Alfred and nephew of Henry, was named.
In 1858 Alfred du Pont, older brother of Henry, and senior partner before him, died, leaving Henry as the sole surviving son of E. I. du Pont, the founder. Like Alexis, he had been exceedingly friendly with the men in the plant. Even though he was a sickly man and during the last eight years of his life a semi-invalid, in retirement, his counsel had been of great help to Henry in the first years of Henry's partnership. The General himself seemed never to have been quite the workman's friend that his brothers Alfred and Alexis had been. The fact that he worked in a small office could not have made for such a difference in attitude between management and labor, for Alfred had also worked in the same office. Perhaps Henry's military education had something to do with his austerity, though it would be interesting to learn if he had always been of serious mien. The workmen liked him and respected him for his fairness and justness, even came each evening with their troubles, but they could never quite overcome the attitude that he was "Mr. Henry," or "The General."
The senior partner now found that he had to eat his words that improvement in powder was impossible and the attack must be made therefore on bringing down the cost. Changes in the types and methods of making powders began to appear. One new explosive patented in Europe and America by Schoenbein in 1846 was called "Cotton gun powder." Alfred du Pont had been interested in the product and made an excellent study of it, in which after thorough testing he found several reasons why it was not a sufficient improvement over what was then used to make it practicable at that time. Though he turned down the cotton gun powder he suggested that in the future the new explosive might be a useful product. In 1858 Henry's nephew Lammot went to Europe to inspect arsenals and powder mills to see what changes in manufacture had been p207 caused by Crimean War. Enthusiastically he hurried home with a deep interest in the improvement of military powder. Captain Thomas J. Rodman, famous ballistics expert of the United States Army Ordnance, worked with him. In artillery, particularly, the huge powder charges required too much pressure within the bore and because of this Rodman and Lammot du Pont wanted to decrease the explosive force within the gun. The answer seemed to be in making the powder grains of increasing density, round in shape, and up to •three inches in diameter. The new powder, called "Mammoth," burned much slower, thereby reducing pressure and increasing velocity. This powder proved its value later when the Monitor and the Merrimac fought their famous naval engagement. In these late years, prior to Civil War, the firm continued to expand, particularly in the coal fields and, in addition to its powder mills near Scranton, secured control of a powder plant near Hazelton, Pennsylvania. Experiments with powder and expansion in the coal fields though were forgotten when South Carolina seceded.
At the outset of the Civil War, the plant on the Brandywine was called upon to furnish a very substantial part of the explosives needed by the Union troops. Henry's duties now multiplied, for he not only continued the management of the powder works, but added to his duties the military command of the Delaware militia. Though he had been out of uniform for almost twenty-seven years his positions as Aide-de‑Camp to the Governor and fifteen years as Adjutant General partially prepared him for his promotion. Difficulties began at once because of Delaware's mixture of Southern and Northern sympathizers. In the 1860 election less than one‑third of Delaware's votes were for Lincoln and only by the narrowest margin was the State held in the Union. Henry himself had voted for Bell in preference to Lincoln, but nevertheless was quick to show his allegiance to the new President. He lined up the employees and after a snappy speech, informed each man that he would either take the oath of allegiance to the Union, or get out. Two companies of home guards were organized among the p208 men at the mills, their Captains being Lammot du Pont and Hugh Stirling. During the war the enemy never quite reached the mills. In 1863 an attempt was made to seize the Philadelphia, Baltimore and Wilmington Railroad during a Confederate cavalry raid. The troopers "reached Gunpowder Bridge in Maryland" but were driven back by the Delaware militia which included the companies from the Powder Works. On another occasion two men in disguise who proved to be the Confederate spies, Captain O'Keefe and one Ryan, were captured within •a half-mile of the mill with "complete plans of the plant . . ." During this period, Confederate agents evidently were engaged in sabotage, as the plant suffered several mystifying explosions and a total loss of thirty-nine workers in addition to valuable machinery.
Henry du Pont's most important service to the Union, "aside from supplying powder," was his requirement that every member of the Delaware militia take the oath of allegiance to the United States. Upon accepting his appointment as head of the State militia, Henry du Pont "stipulated that he should have absolute control." His order produced the greatest excitement among "disloyal members of the Democratic party, who were counting upon Confederate success and secretly discussing the question of taking Delaware out of the Union." These Southern sympathizers vainly applied to General du Pont for a change in his order. Upon his refusal they turned to Governor Burton. The General's son said that "in spite of the Governor's weakness, Du Pont stood absolutely firm . . ." He reported the unwillingness of certain men to take the oath of allegiance to the United States to the Federal Commander at Baltimore, General John A. Dix, asking at the same time for troops. Du Pont's request for Federal troops was complied with and Delaware, despite the fact that the Democrats controlled the elections (Republican voters were serving in large numbers in the Union Army), was safe within the Union.
One of the greatest problems after the start of the Civil War was the obtaining of sufficient saltpeter for powder making, p209 as the new Chilean nitrate was only a good substitute at that time in blasting powder. In late 1861 the supply of that essential was very low. Henry sent Lammot to Washington to consult with the Secretaries of War and Navy. With their authorization in his pocket and Henry's backing he sailed for England, there secretly to purchase great amounts of saltpeter. The secrecy was especially important in order to keep the price from booming. The young partner worked fast in London and within one day bought 2000 tons, sufficient saltpeter to keep the powder works in operation under war conditions for approximately two years. Some of this powder material was taken on option, as the cargoes were still on the high seas en route to England. Next Lammot contracted for sufficient ships to transport his cargo and made ready for the return voyage. The British Government stepped in and commanded that the shipment be halted. The Confederate commission, Mason and Slidell, on their journey to England had been taken off a British vessel, the Trent, by Union officers. While diplomacy was attempting to untie this open defiance of international law, an embargo was declared on all shipments to America. Lammot's $400,000 worth of saltpeter was tied up. According to Kerr, Lammot's version of the episode much condensed, was as follows: Lord Palmerston, the British Prime Minister and friend of the Confederacy, first made every possible effort to hamper Du Pont financially. Henry's letter of credit to Baring Brothers was soon exhausted and it took much argument to assure them that Lammot's signature would be sufficient as a guarantee. Failing to place that financial impediment in Du Pont's way, Palmerston issued the embargo. Young Lammot went immediately to the Prime Minister and asked him to raise the embargo, but without success. The impasse was reported to the American Secretary of War, Edwin C. Stanton, in person by Lammot, who had hastened to America. Once again the young partner took to the high seas and soon handed Secretary Stanton's letter to the Prime Minister. That well-trained diplomat whitened and his face "winced noticeably p210 . . ." When told that the matter would be considered within the next few days, Lammot boiled over. He identified Palmerston that he had booked return passage for the United States on the following day and would only await his pleasure until sailing time. At dinner that noon the brash young powder man was told that his Lordship would see him and for a few minutes Lammot mischievously continued his meal. Lord Palmerston said that the sailing could be deferred but upon being told that young Du Pont would not permit such inconvenience to his fellow passengers, the Prime Minister sat down and wrote out the release. Kerr later stated that the immediate excuse for embargo was not the Mason-Slidell affair but the sudden draining of Britain's defense supply of saltpeter. By the first of February, 1862, the precious cargo was on its way to the Brandywine mill. By 1863 the stock of this necessary ingredient of powder was again exhausted and Henry du Pont was writing to his brokers in Calcutta: "The manufacture of saltpeter has commenced in this country in several places. . . . (it) is made from nitrate of soda and potash. It sells at the same price as East India saltpeter. It is not popular with powder manufacturers, but when saltpeter is scarce it sells pretty well."
Although Henry could show a large sale of powder, 4,000,000 pounds to the Army and Navy, the Company lost its California, Southern, and West India trade. Confederate privateers cut off water shipments and overland transport was not feasible at that time. The California miners were so desperate for blasting powder that they finally built a powder mill of their own. General du Pont had judged the influence of the war correctly in its first month when he said: "The extra demand for powder for war purposes will not equal the regular demand which would have existed had peace continued." Difficulties also arose with the Federal Government over the price of gun powder and its taxation.
In 1862 Henry sent Lammot to Washington in an attempt to secure the modification of a bill for the taxation of gun powder p211 mainly because it carried "a clause providing for the manufacture of powder by the Government." Though the taxes were laid, no more was heard of Government powder mills. Henry's indignation was still so great at the idea that the Government with inexperienced men could make powder better and cheaper than his firm, that he wrote to Captain Harwood: "The market price was 20¢ in December when we supplied the Government at 18¢; the present price compared to current rates of trade is $2.00 a barrel better for the Government than it ought to be by present prices of material." Furthermore, he attested that the United States Government was getting better prices than any other in the world. He quoted the greater price paid to the British powder manufacturer and emphasized that no duties were paid on saltpeter and brimstone, as he had been forced to do. Again in 1864 the argument continued to the breaking point and Henry du Pont reaffirmed his stand in a letter to General Ramsey. Previous to this our Government had complained as the price rose to 26¢ a pound and Henry du Pont was asked, "Whether it was possible to bring powder from England." The Assistant Secretary of War informed Du Pont that English firms would sell to the Government "at 34¢ a pound for cannon and 40¢ for musket powder, exclusive of shipping charges . . ." In addition to the higher charges for foreign powder there was also the chance for confusion due to the different sizes and specifications of English powders. Again in 1864 the duties on Du Pont's powder ingredients were increased by the Federal Government, and the General after raising the price to 30¢ a pound, explained to the Government how much the prices for material and labor had increased since to be beginning of the war.
In addition to the above difficulties the Federal Government never paid Du Pont when the bills were presented. The powder manufacturer meanwhile had to settle for material, labor, and taxes in cash. In March and April 1862, Henry du Pont wrote to the Ordnance Department explaining his needs for funds and asking for payment. Slowly the Government checks trickled p212 in and in August 1865 the Secretary of the Treasury offered payment of all bills at 25 per cent in cash and 75 per cent in certificates of indebtedness. This settlement Henry du Pont "cheerfully accepted."
While the senior partner was serving in his dual capacity during the war there were other members of the du Pont clan in the Federal service, notably the General's son, Colonel Henry A., and his cousin, Admiral Samuel du Pont.
At the close of the Civil War Henry had as partners in the firm his three nephews, Eleuthère Irénée and Lammot, sons of Alfred du Pont, and Eugene, the eldest son of Alexis. As the group surveyed the war records they found ample evidence that war business, as Henry predicted, had not been as profitable as the expanding peacetime needs would probably have been. The Company's Southern agents had large sums of worthless Confederate money, though a few of them had been far‑seeing enough to purchase cotton with their Confederate money. Powder had been taken from the Du Pont magazines by Southern States for the use of their army and none of the States recognized the indebtedness after the war. The Federal Government "asked to be released from all powder contracts." The Company, having acceded to the Government's wishes, then resumed the manufacture of blasting powder. Henry again was quick to see a new market in the 60's greater even than the coal mining market of the 50's. This was the railroad expansion in which •22,000 miles of railway were laid during the ten‑year period, 1860 to '70. In 1866 in the very uncertain market the United States Government entered into competition with the Du Pont Powder Works and others. The Government not only had large supplies on hand but was receiving new supplies "from firms that had refused to cancel their war contracts. It had formerly been the custom of the Army and Navy departments to give old powder in part payment for new; but the great quantity on hand and the industrial demand for explosive suggested a more summary method . . . public auctions." When the Government sold powder at auctions the p213 situation became quite serious for Henry du Pont's firm. He sent an agent to Washington to try to make some better arrangement with the Government but there he found that though there was agreement that "it would be to the interest of the Government to have their powder handled by one large concern," there was not a single man who would dare to make such an arrangement." Again and again the Ordnance Department was warned that their auctions "caused a heavy loss to manufacturers as well as to the Government." At one sale the Du Pont Company bid for powder and "got a general assortment of percussion caps, fuses, ends of rope, old nails, spikes, paper and brass balls." The Company in order to protect its workmen "dumped it all into the river . . ." For seven years the Government auctions continued until finally the Government agreed not to sell any more powder. The remainder was exchanged at a ratio of one to four (one pound of good new powder for four of old powder) for many years. The General's Company continued reworking Civil War powder until 1890.
"Mr. Henry's" second love was always the land, of which the firm owned •about 2000 acres. It was well known that the farm was "in a high state of cultivation and the roads all macadamized for ease of transportation. The buildings on the estate are mostly of stone and very substantial and the machinery is of the best and most costly character." More and more Henry du Pont spent his time on his farm after the Civil War and as the years rolled along he turned over much of the active business of the company to other members of the clan. Though he allowed division in business labors, he was the czar of the Du Pont social life. The group had lived honest, God‑fearing lives and though they had left their Huguenot faith to follow the teachings of the Protestant Episcopal church they had not forgotten the Calvinist principles. Alexis, Henry's younger brother, had built a church at Hagley, Christiana Hundred, Delaware, where the entire family worshiped. As an example of Henry's social control his handling of Lammot's marriage p214 in 1865 to Mary Belin, daughter of a bookkeeper at the mills, was characteristic. Because of Mary Belin's one‑quarter Jewish blood everyone expected a family explosion. However, Lammot's new wife was a native of the countryside, popular, and of French ancestry. On the New Year's day following their marriage, General Henry rode up to Lammot's house in his high rig and left a gift for the bride. This upholding of a du Pont tradition meant that Mary was in good standing.
During these Post-Civil War years Henry showed again his refusal readily to accept change. Nobel had patented the process for making nitro-glycerine, or dynamite, and at one time the General said: "It is only a matter of time how soon a man will lose his life who uses nitro-glycerine . . . or any explosive of that nature." Later he had occasion to say "I told you so" when a serious explosion occurred with the new Swedish blasting oil. He sent so far as to warn the Pennsylvania Railroad against hauling these new compounds. After a few years though, the General swallowed his prejudice, due to the opposition of his nephew Lammot, who had determinedly announced his intention of entering the field of high explosives manufacture, even if he had to leave the Du Pont Powder Works. Because he thought highly of Lammot's chemical knowledge, "Mr. Henry" one day grudgingly stated, "We are going into the high explosive business . . ." Though this was Lammot's first knowledge of the new enterprise, he could not get the senior partner to say more. In fact "Mr. Henry" never gave his blessing to the new dynamite business. Lammot du Pont became President of the Repauno Chemical Company with William du Pont, second son among the General's eight children, as Secretary and Treasurer. The factory was located at Gibbstown, New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Chester, Pennsylvania. Later on, Henry du Pont's conversion to dynamite appeared in the company correspondence. He said in 1881: "As to blasting under water, we must frankly advise nitro-glycerine. We refer you to the Repauno Chemical Company."
p215 During 1870, with William and Lammot leaving the Brandywine, General Henry turned to his eldest son, Henry A. and asked that he leave the army to help his father. With an administrative background, Colonel du Pont relieved his father of the tremendous job of letter writing. For forty years the General said he had averaged thousands of letters annually and "it has spoiled my penmanship." Henry A. du Pont found that the office work left him spare time so he began to take care of the railway transportation for the firm and consequently because of that knowledge became President of the Wilmington and Northern Railroad in addition to his company duties. Later in life the Colonel was elected United States Senator from Delaware.
Henry's other son, William, was for a time in complete charge of all the farm land belonging to the firm. In these two sons appear the characteristics of the father — the love of the soil, and of political life. As a politician the General had begun in maturity to believe staunchly in the old Whig Party with its protective tariff and Bank of the United States platform. He was a great believer in Henry Clay and thought him second only to Washington as a statesman. When in 1844, Henry du Pont was a delegate to the National Whig convention in Baltimore, he nominated the great Kentuckian for the Presidency. When the Whig party had been dissolved he voted for Bell and Everett in 1860, but "when the Civil War broke out he became a strong supporter of President Lincoln and was one of the leaders of the Republicans of Delaware, being their candidate for Presidential elector in 1868, 1876, 1880, 1884 and 1888. Someone had said that ironically the only election year in which Henry was not a presidential elector for the Republican party, in 1872, were they successful. In State politics he was particularly emphatic in denouncing the despicable treachery by which the Democrats of Delaware so long succeeded in depriving great numbers of their political adversaries of the right to vote . . ." He believed strongly that active participation in the political effort was "a public and patriotic p216 duty of the highest importance . . ." For forty years he served in his home district as "inspector of elections and challenger at the polls." More than one voter remembered him as he seriously watched every ballot. They recalled him as a man of medium stature, •about five feet ten inches tall, with auburn hair, aquiline nose, hazel eyes, ruddy complexion and a somewhat prominent, though well-formed chin, adorned by the deep dimple transmitted to so many of her descendants by his great-grandmother, Anne de Montchanin. Strangely enough, though he was entirely a Latin, he had no animation in his manner though his expression was "pleasant and agreeable." Like his great-grandfather, Samuel du Pont, Henry had decided opinions to which he stuck tenaciously. Furthermore, he had natural dignity and a slight reserve of manner. Always, he was a man of extremely regular habits, and punctual to a fault.
Of particular interest to the biographer is the reaction of honest, cautious Henry du Pont to the new methods of business in vogue during his last years. How far he followed the methods of the "Robber Barons" and what legacy he left his junior partners in the acceptance or rejection of their ethics of doing business, is a worthwhile line to follow. The picture usually given of the railroad magnates and financiers of that period after 1870 when the Industrial Revolution had taken hold of the United States is one of unscrupulous men ruthlessly crushing small competitors. Henry du Pont, it is certain, entered into the new methods of obtaining powder business with characteristic vigor. An account of his business methods is important to an understanding of the man.
After the Civil War, difficulties other than Government competition arose in the powder company. Bessie Gardner du Pont, in her history of the Du Pont Company, said that at the time the many difficulties made it imperative that the materials be bought and the powder products sold more carefully in order to turn a profit. She stated: "For that purpose the larger companies agreed among themselves not to outbid each other in buying saltpeter or nitrate; not to attempt to sell in p217 territory that could be more economically reached by another company; and above all to stop the ruinous competition of their agents." From correspondence of the Du Pont family she concluded: "Their intention was not to force prices up or down, nor was any company made to suffer for not joining them." The black powder companies were simply making the best arrangement possible to remain in business.
On the morning of April 23, 1872, representatives of six black powder companies met in the New York office of the Du Ponts to organize the Gunpowder Trade Association of the United States. The scheme was to give each of the three largest companies — Du Pont, Laflin & Rand, and Hazard — ten votes each; Oriental Powder, six votes; and American and Miami Powder companies, four votes each. Their agreement, according to Kerr, "was not to compete in the market for raw material requirements (and), to assign trade territories on the basis of most economical servicing."
Winkler in his Du Pont Dynasty related how the machine-like combination, which lasted longer than any similar one except Standard Oil, was used with "ruthless efficiency to eliminate or to gain control of smaller companies." In support of this statement, he showed the Du Pont expansion of the 1870's when they acquired numerous small plants, and heavy interests in the Hazard Company, one of the Big Three, and in the California Powder Works, which was outside the Gunpowder Trade Association.
In defense of the Association, Kerr maintained that all the powder companies agreed that the ruinous competition must stop, and that "the prices they established were based on actual cost plus a reasonable margin of profit." Bessie Gardner du Pont gave as the reason the expansion of the company in 1875, its personal management and ability to make profits even during the panic, so that it was able to buy up plants and buy into less fortunate companies which were not as ably administered.
The History of the Explosives Industryb marshaled many p218 facts in support of B. G. du Pont and George H. Kerr, that the "powder combine" in which the General was interested was formed many years before such a thing as a trust was considered illegal and not in the public interest. Furthermore the history of the industry more logically gives one the feeling that the Du Pont company was doing what any other company would do in protecting its interests in dog-eat‑dog competition. Perhaps the solution was not in monopoly charges but in the fact that "The General," according to Winkler, "could drive a shrewder bargain than the next man."
After the Civil War the larger companies, which had been occupied with military orders to the detriment of their commercial business, found that many "small, badly equipped mills had sprung up to supply local needs." Unable to cope with the depression and with the financial losses of explosions, and with a lack of knowledge of the powder business, these local concerns were soon willing to sell their plants to the large companies, or to be taken into partnership. The Gunpowder Trade Association, according to the History of Explosives Industry, was composed of good-sized powder plants. "The era of the small plant was over," this volume further stated. Evidently the Association was not in restraint of trade, for three new and large firms sprang up about 1880. They prospered and it was not until 1887 that they asked for permission to join the Association as full-fledged members. "It was charged by the Government that the Hazard Company (one of the Association members) . . . instructed its agents to guarantee to each customer that the price should be ten cents lower than any price that King (one of the three new companies) should make." This charge was denied by G. M. Peters, one of the officials of the King Company at that time.
Furthermore, the three new companies forced the Association to the most serious test of its career, and the members were forced to meet the prices of newcomers to hold their trade. The Association had agreed during the earlier 1880's that any member who sold below the stipulated agreed price should p219 pay a fine of $1.00 a keg into the Association treasury. Naturally the treasury prospered, for "between 1881 and 1883 there were 230 cases of violations of the price agreements brought before and tried by the Association."
During this period of competition, Henry du Pont expressed the attitude of the larger companies when he said that he and his partners, "Believed that all the companies had a right to manufacture powder and sell it, and that he not only welcomed the newer companies . . . but he wanted them to understand that they had rights just as much as Du Ponts had; . . . and the only question was how . . . to restore the trade that had gone to pieces so badly." Peters of the new King Powder Company stated that "there was disposition of deference to the younger companies" on the part of Du Pont, Laflin & Rand, and Hazard.
In the relations with the California Powder Works, the Association showed its true colors. The former company continued to make profits, outside the Association, and in 1875 made an agreement with it which allowed the California Powder Works "a practical monopoly of the black powder business of the West Coast . . ." The Association went so far as to agree with the leading Canadian powder works, the Hamilton Company, "to refrain from business within the dominion for twenty years." Lammot du Pont, though, was one of the officials of this concern and such an agreement was of course to the best interests of the du Pont interests.
Through the last decade of his life, Henry gave up more and more of the details of the company to his sons and nephews. He kept his hand in the business, though, until the end, and because of his natural caution and conservativeness, the company continued to prosper. He was an excellent balance to the younger members of the firm and acted as a steadying influence when they too readily accepted new ideas. His conservatism, that of his Huguenot ancestors, was satisfied with "slow but sure progress." "It was his very steadfastness to the proven truths," remarked Kerr, "which left his path strewn p220 with so few mistakes." The same frugality which he practiced in business marked his home, as he was the dispenser of a liberal though unostentatious hospitality.
Henry's conservation gave rise to some humorous situations at the office. His son, Colonel Henry Algernon, subtly sought to make changes in his father's set ways. Though he could never persuade the General to hire a stenographer to ease the letter-writing burden, the son obtained a peremptory "suggestion" from the Army Ordnance Department that the Brandywine mills be illuminated by electricity rather than by the General's tried and true lanterns. Later Henry gave in to his son so as to allow a railroad spur to be run into the yards, though the "Iron Horse" supplanted the Conestoga wagons only after Henry's death.
Late in the 1880's a du Pont agent in Texas warned General du Pont that the people and their government "were growing highly critical of corporations." In a testy reply the senior partner reminded him that the Du Pont Company had never been a corporation and stated: "We are a partnership — a firm composed of individuals . . . we manage our own business in every particular, and allow no trust or combinations to rule or dictate what we shall do or what we shall not do. We make our own powder, and we make our own prices at which it shall be sold here, there, and everywhere in the world where it is for sale. We are every day dictating to our agents as to prices, terms, and conditions to govern them; but we do not allow anybody to dictate to us as to what prices, terms, and conditions we shall dictate. We do our own dictating."
"We do our own dictating" represented the spirit of the laissez-faire industrialism of General Henry. For despite his training he was a product of the times and a leader in the expanding endeavors of big business. Had Pierre du Pont, the Physiocrat, lived in the industrial age, he would have approved of his grandson's exchange of agriculture for the new machine production as a basis of wealth. Furthermore, Pierre would p221 have smacked his lips at Henry's fine blending of business as his vocation, with farming as an avocation.
After an illness of two months, Henry du Pont died on his seventy-seventh birthday, in the same house in which he had been born. Fifty-five years of powder-making had earned for him a reputation for honest work, and the right to sleep peacefully with his ancestors.
1 Opening idea from Du Pont Romance by George H. Kerr.
a The text as printed actually reads "C. A. Talcott", but there was, according to Heitman's Register, no Army officer by that name. Engineer Andrew Talcott, who held the rank of Captain at that time, is the man meant; the mistake probably due to Baumer's quick misreading of his own notes, in which C. must have stood for "Captain".
b Arthur Pine Van Gelder and Hugo Schlatter, History of the Explosives Industry in America (New York, Columbia University Press, 1927).
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