DuPont (China), Inc. recordsCreation: 1921-1951 Creation: Majority of material found within 1941-1950
DuPont (China), Inc. was a firm established to manage the exports of dyestuffs manufactured in China by the DuPont Company's Organic Chemicals Department. The collection consists of materials from DuPont's Organic Chemicals Department in China and a group of reports and notebooks describing the beginnings of DuPont's dyestuffs ventures in East Asia.
- Creation: 1921-1951
- Creation: Majority of material found within 1941-1950
- DuPont (China), Inc (Organization)
- E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. Organic Chemicals Department (Organization)
1.5 Linear Feet
DuPont (China), Inc. was a firm established to manage the exports of dyestuffs manufactured in China by the DuPont Company's Organic Chemicals Department. DuPont’s first big entry into the Chinese market occurred in 1917, when they sent R. S. Lunt (dates unknown) to investigate the prospects for exporting dyestuffs to replace European articles interdicted by World War I. Blue cloth being a popular item throughout China, he selected indigo as the product most likely to succeed, and this proved to be the case, although the company later exported sulphur black, other dyes, rubber chemicals, and agricultural chemicals. In March 1921, Dr. Francis A. M. Noelting (1886-1964) arrived in Shanghai as sales manager for dyestuffs. However, the importation of dyestuffs was in the hands of a “dye guild’ of Chinese merchants who demanded that DuPont form a joint enterprise with fifty percent Chinese capital. Whether for lack of experience with local customs or some other cause, Noelting managed to offend the “dye guild” and botched the negotiations. He explored the possibilities in Japan, which he soon decided were unfavorable. In China, Noelting achieved success by bypassing the guild at Shanghai and making direct contact with cloth dyers in the interior. Often this involved arduous trips by river boat or sedan chair into regions were there were no paved roads and unsafe conditions were prevalent. On the whole, this strategy was successful, and DuPont developed a network of sales agencies in many of the Chinese provinces. The main office remained in Shanghai under Dr. Noelting, where there was also a small processing plant. Noelting employed a number of native Chinese, particularly those who had studied technical subjects in the U.S., in responsible positions. Eventually, a separate firm, DuPont (China), Inc., was incorporated in Delaware to handle the Chinese export business.
DuPont’s operations were naturally hindered by the outbreak of war between Japan and China in the 1930s and the subsequent Japanese occupation of Shanghai. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese seized the Shanghai office and plant and turned it over to the Chugai Investment Company, a subsidiary of Mitsui. As many of the employees either had managed to evacuate or were not American natives, most of the staff seems to have escaped being sent to prison camps but were left to fend for themselves. The office in Chungking in unoccupied China was also closed.
After the war, the company managed to repossess most of its property, but business increasingly felt the impact of the civil war between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists and Mao Tse-tung’s Communists, culminating in the latter’s occupation of Shanghai and victory in 1949. At first, it appeared that the Communists would allow some foreign trade to continue subject to restrictions and occasional confiscations. However, Western recognition of the Nationalist regime on Taiwan as the legitimate Chinese government, and the severing of relations with and economic boycott of Mao’s regime on the mainland soon put an end to DuPont’s Chinese venture. Noelting retired at the end of 1949. The Shanghai office was closed, and a reduced operation was moved to Hong Kong under Gantt W. Miller, Jr. (1909-1978).
Scope and Content
The collection consists of materials from DuPont's Organic Chemicals Department in China and a group of reports and notebooks describing the beginnings of DuPont's dyestuffs ventures in East Asia.
The records from the interwar years are extremely interesting and describe the steps by which DuPont began the export of dyestuffs to China. A report by Dr. F.A.M. Noelting on the development of DuPont's dye business in China includes many photographs showing the local staff and facilities, travel into the interior by boat and sedan chair, and many of the firm's customers, including personnel and scenes of traditional textile dyeing. A briefing book on Japan from the 1920s includes notes on Japanese customs and culture, a railway map of Japan, and notes on the Japanese cotton industry. Photographs in this book include scenes of devastation caused by the great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and of F.W. Pickard's trip to Japan, with groups of company and Japanese officials. Associated with both books are samples of dyed cloth and samples of DuPont labels and stickers in both Chinese and Japanese. These include both bilingual variants on the regular DuPont oval trademark and scenes drawn from domestic life and local folklore selected to indicate the positive qualities that DuPont wished to have associated with its products. A third volume contains collected memos and articles on the process of textile dyeing.
While there is a small amount of material from the months leading up to America's entry into the Pacific War, the bulk of the records cover the postwar years. They give a good picture of life in the foreign business community in Shanghai during the waning years of the Nationalist regime and the aftermath of the Communist victory in 1949. Inventories of property were prepared to support claims for reparations from Japanese seizure during the War, and other letters describe the privations faced by employees during the Japanese occupation. Correspondence shows the attempts to carry on normal business and social life in the face of rampant inflation, the final efforts and collapse of the Nationalists, and then the anti-capitalist and anti-Western program of the Communists, ending with the evacuation to Hong Kong. Information on company personnel shows the multinational nature of the workforce and the strategy of employing qualified Chinese and making sales agency contracts with native Chinese dealers.
The records include a report on the immediate postwar status of the German chemical industry, long DuPont's major competitor in these markets, statements of exports and sales of dyestuffs and other chemicals, and statements of the cost of living for foreign businessmen and their families in Shanghai. A series of market surveys analyze the market for Fabrikoid in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) in 1940, and for plastics, finishes, agricultural chemicals, explosives, and other DuPont products at Hong Kong in 1950. There is also a literal translation of an article from a Shanghai newspaper describing the du Pont family and its fortune in an exaggerated manner somewhat suggestive of traditional Beijing opera.
This collection is open for research.
Language of Materials
Collection materials were preserved by Gantt W. Miller, Jr. (1909-1978), who took over operation of DuPont's Hong Kong office on January 1, 1950. The records were given to Miller by Lincoln R. Moore (1892-1981), the Organic Chemicals Department's manager for China.
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- DuPont (China), Inc. records
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- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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