At one time DuPont employed 10% of Wilmington’s workforce, and invented neoprene, mylar, teflon, kevlar, nylon, and lycra. Today, the du Pont’s are still one of the richest families in America, and it all began along this stretch of the Brandywine River.

It was here in 1802 that E. I. du Pont founded the gunpowder works that would begin the family’s fortune. Family patriarch, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, was a philosopher and economist who helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris, ending the American Revolution. He was well known to Thomas Jefferson, who referred to him as “one of the very great men of the age” and “the ablest man in France” (and who would later help Jefferson negotiate the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon). Despite initial support for the French Revolution, Pierre defended the King and Queen, and was sentenced to execution by guillotine. He was spared, but after the family’s house was destroyed, he and his 2 grown sons immigrated from France in 1799, initially hoping to found a community of French exiles.

After initially setting in New Jersey, it was Pierre’s younger son, Eleutherr Irenee, a chemist who had trained with Lavoisier, who founded the gunpowder works along the Brandywine River in Delaware, where several other mills had already been established. The site was chosen for its abundant resources, including willow trees used for charcoal, the river used to power the mills through creation of a mill race:

and, stone used for the buildings.

By the mid-1800’s DuPont was the largest supplier of gunpowder to the U.S. military, and supplied 1/3-1/2 of the powder used by the Union Army during the Civil War. Westward expansion after the war added to the company’s prosperity. In the 1900’s they established two of the first industrial laboratories in the United States, where they worked on inventing the chemical products that they are known for today. They were also involved with the WWII Manhattan Project, designing, building, and operating the plutonium factory in Washington state.

Today, a visit to Hagley includes includes restored mills:

The best part is the working 1870’s millwright shop. Definitely watch the demonstration, where a staff member opens the sluices, activating the turbine, which powers the belts that (still!) run the metal working machines – which can be turned on and off by attaching or unhooking them from the central belt. It’s an amazing demonstration of 19th century ingenuity.

a workers’ community:

and the ancestral home and gardens of the du Pont family. Although the original family home still stands above the powder yards, it was extensively remodeled and redecorated in the early 1920’s. However, it does contain some family heirlooms

as well as this terrific 1920’s basement kitchen:

The 1837 office and 1844 barn can also be visited.

The main museum building contains the world’s largest private collection of patent models. Made primarily in the 1800’s these are no only historical, but beautiful, detailed machines, ranging from the whimsical

to the practical

The museum offers great field trip opportunities, including historical demonstrations and classes on inventing.