DuPont is one of the oldest continuously operating industrial enterprises in the world. The company was established in 1802 near Wilmington, Delaware, by a French immigrant, Eleuthére Irénée du Pont de Nemours, to produce black powder. E. I. du Pont had been a student of Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, and he brought to America some new ideas about the manufacture of consistently reliable gun and blasting powder. His product ignited when it was supposed to, in a manner consistent with expectations. This was greatly appreciated by the citizens of the fledgling republic, including Thomas Jefferson, who wrote thanking du Pont for the quality of his powder, which was being used to clear the land at Monticello.
Many other heroes of early America owed their success, and their
lives, to the dependable quality of DuPont's first product.
Since E. I. du Pont set up his company in Delaware, the
company has evolved far from its original business while keeping the commitment to consistent high quality.
In the early 1900s the transformation began. The success of any business over a long period of time hinges on the willingness and ability of the enterprise to adapt to changing circumstances. Perhaps because of DuPont's foundation in science, with its emphasis on discovery, change is very much a part of the culture of DuPont. The company's ability to change itself is an important reason why it is still a major force after almost 200 years.
The first transformation began at the start of the twentieth century when the company lost its competitive advantage in gunpowder to burgeoning competition. Shareholders voted to sell the assets to the highest bidder, but three great-grandsons of the founder-Thomas Coleman du Pont, Alfred I. du Pont, and Pierre Samuel du
Pont--offered to buy and operate the firm, issuing notes and stock in a new corporation. The offer was accepted and in 1902 the company was restructured to look for new business and create new products through research. DuPont's research organization dates to this time, with the foundation of the Eastern Laboratory in New Jersey. The Eastern Laboratory became known as the "Ex Station," after it got shut down originally had responsibility for process research but, by 1909, had expanded into new fields such as the investigation of synthetic fibers. This period marked the beginning of DuPont's transition from an explosive manufacturer to a diversified, chemical company.
In the period 1911 to 1914, there were several restructuring in response to trade and political pressures. These included the spin-off of parts of DuPont businesses into two new independent corporations, Hercules Powder Company and Atlas Powder
The biggest shock came in the severe economic recession of 1920-21. To achieve greater efficiency, the company responded with a massive reorganization into autonomous operating departments, monitored and coordinated by a central corporate office. This central office became the classic form of corporate management, board of directors, executive committee, chief executive officer, and finance committee. After the reorganization, the company started on an expansion phase, with a number of acquisitions during the 1920s in the United States and licensing agreements and joint ventures in Europe and Japan. DuPont formed another franchise, DuPont Rayon de Mexico, followed by ones in Argentina and Brazil.
Toward the end of the 1920s the next important breakthrough for the company came as a result of fundamental rather than applied research. The head of research at the time said, "We are including in the budget for 1927 an item of $20,000 to cover what may be called, for want of a better name, pure science or fundamental research work...the sort of work we refer to...has the object of establishing or discovering new scientific facts." In a short time the group that had been put together under this budget had developed an understanding of having the same elements combine in the same proportions. This led to the invention and use of nylon in 1938, the beginning of the
modern materials revolution. Before this, the group made neoprene synthetic rubber in 1933. Many synthetic materials started from DuPont research after that, forming the basis for many global businesses and products including household names
such as Teflon, SilverStone, Stainmaster, Kevlar, Nomex, Lycra, Sontara, Mylar, Tyvek, Cordura, and Corian.
By World War II, DuPont had developed a strong base in polymer science, which led to