Hagley Museum

Hagley Museum preserves the original DuPont Company black powder yards where 228 men were killed in explosions.

On a wet, blustery day in the winter of 1801 a young French immigrant was hunting in the wooded, rolling hills south of Philadelphia. The dampness of the air infected his gunpowder, causing continual misfirings and sabotaging the expedition.

Appalled at the inferior quality of American gunpowder, Eleuthere Irenee du Pont took little game that day but returned home with something more important: a business idea. Since arriving in America two years earlier the du Ponts had not prospered. Irenee had once studied with the French government's chemist in charge of manufacturing gunpowder, Antoinne Lavoisier. Now he returned to France to bring back the technology necessary to launch his own explosives business.

He chose a site on the Brandywine River in northern Delaware for his mills, a region central to the existing states. The Brandywine flowed swiftly, generating abundant water power. The surrounding hills were blanketed with virgin timber used to make charcoal, one of the three ingredients needed to make black powder. The remaining two, sulphur and saltpeter, or sodium nitrate, could be imported and easily transported from the ports in nearby Wilmington. Also, du Pont always struggled with the English language and he drew comfort from the large French population in Wilmington at the time.

Du Pont black powder quickly gained acceptance as a superior gunpowder and blasting powder - the primary tool in clearing stumps from farmland, digging canals and building roads. Everything needed to build a growing nation. During the War of 1812 the United States government became a regular customer. Throughout the 19th century the company grew into AmericaÕs largest supplier of black gunpowder and the newest product on the market, dynamite. By 1905 the company controlled 75 percent of the United States powder market.

After World War I, with European economies in ruin, the DuPont Company moved quickly to the forefront of new chemical applications, and black powder, the product that forged the du Pont dynasty, took on a lesser role. The Brandywine Mills begun by the founder over a century before, were dismantled in 1921. And while black powder is still an important industrial and military explosive, the last of the DuPont Company black powder business was sold in 1972.

The company's heritage was originally preserved in the DuPont Museum. Hagley Museum, named for the original name of a section of the powder yards, was established in 1952, on the 150th anniversary of the founding of the company by Eleuthere Irenee du Pont. It maintains the original powder works in a 230-acre museum along the Brandywine River. Hagley tells the story of the DuPont Company as part of the broader history of industry and technology in the time of AmericaÕs Industrial Revolution. In addition to the powder mills, visitors can tour the ancestral du Pont family home built in 1803, a restored French garden and a former workerÕs community.

The Henry Clay Mill, once used to manufacture powder containers, introduces the history of the Brandywine Valley manufacturing life with dioramas and models. In addition to the DuPont black powder mills the river supported numerous flour mills, paper mills and tanneries. Exhibits show how the tumbling waters were harnessed to generate industrial power.

Outside, the Millwright Shop features working models illustrating the process for making black powder. Crafters use pulleys and belts in a 19th century machine shop to demonstrate how power tools operated in the age before electricity. Reconstructed water wheels power machines in the stone mill buildings alongside a millrace. An engine house showcases a mammoth 1870s engine operating under live steam.

The Eagle Roll Mill, once used to incorporate ingredients for black powder, operates today, powered by a water turbine that turns the eight-ton cast-iron wheels. the Powderman's Tour is a live demonstration that features a mini-blast of black powder. The volatile mixture of charcoal, saltpeter and sulphur triggered 288 explosions during these mills' 117 years of operation, causing 228 deaths to the pioneers of America's explosives industry.

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