Skip to main content

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Explosives Department records

1923-1959 Majority of material found within 1937-1957
 Collection
Identifier: 2144

Abstract

In the years leading up to the Second World War, the United States government initiated a massive effort to ensure that adequate supplies of essential materials would be readily available should the country's armed forces become actively engaged in military conflict. At the request of the Army Ordnance Department, the DuPont Company participated in these procurement programs by undertaking the design, construction, and operation of plants for the manufacture of military explosives and other chemical products essential to the successful prosecution of the war. The records of the Explosives Department consist of special reports to the Executive Committee, the files of general manager Edward B. Yancey, and the files of powder superintendent Charles E. Seymour.

Dates

  • 1923-1959
  • Majority of material found within 1937-1957

Creator

Extent

18 Linear Feet

Historical Note

The DuPont Company's Explosives Department dates back to 1903, when the Black Powder and High Explosives departments were created following the DuPont Company's reorganization as a modern corporation. In 1917, the Explosives Manufacturing Department was created by the merger of these departments. It was renamed the Explosives Department in 1921.

In the years leading up to the Second World War, the United States government initiated a massive effort to ensure that adequate supplies of essential materials would be readily available should the country's armed forces become actively engaged in military conflict. At the request of the Army Ordnance Department, the DuPont Company participated in these procurement programs by undertaking the design, construction, and operation of plants for the manufacture of military explosives and other chemical products essential to the successful prosecution of the war. The most important of these military explosives was smokeless powder, used as a propellant in the firing of both large- and small-caliber ammunition. Another critical explosive was trinitrotoluene, commonly known as TNT, used primarily as a bursting charge and blasting agent.

As one of the principal suppliers of smokeless powder to Allied forces in World War I and holder of numerous patents for vital manufacturing processes, DuPont was the logical choice to assist the government in meeting its procurement goals. However, in the wake of widespread criticism of the munitions industry for its conduct during World War I, most notably the scathing indictment delivered by the Nye Commission Report, DuPont was initially reluctant to make a similar commitment.

By the mid-1930s, significant advances had been achieved in the manufacture of military explosives. However, these improvements had merely been adapted to small-scale production at existing plants, such as DuPont's smokeless powder plant at Carney's Point, New Jersey, and its TNT plant at Barksdale, Wisconsin. In December 1936, Ordnance Department officials met with representatives from leading explosives manufacturers and agreed to draw up plans for the construction of facilities equipped with standard operating units capable of producing 100,000 pounds of smokeless powder per day.

In the weeks following the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, DuPont's Executive Committee authorized the Explosives Department to enter into negotiations with the War Department for the construction of ordnance facilities at sites selected by the government. In all, eight large-scale plants were designed and constructed by DuPont's Engineering Department over the next four years. These plants were responsible for sixty-five percent of smokeless powder production and thirty percent of TNT production under the Army Ordnance Department's procurement program.

Scope and Contents

The records of the Explosives Department document the collaborative effort undertaken by the DuPont Company and the United States government to manufacture military explosives during the Second World War. The plants that Du Pont designed, constructed, and operated for the government, as well as the equipment and technical expertise DuPont furnished to other chemical manufacturers, contributed immeasurably to the Allied victory. Related materials are located in Accession 1801, Series III, containing the Engineering Department's War Construction Project Histories (boxes 24-30) and Accession 1410, containing narrative histories of military explosives production during World War II prepared by the War Records Staff (box 29/30).

Series I contains special reports to the Executive Committee from Edward B. Yancey, general manager of the Explosives Department, regarding the design, construction, and operation of government-owned ordnance facilities, as well as reports concerning supplemental contracts and change orders. Included with the reports are copies of the contracts and Executive Committee resolutions authorizing these actions.

Series II contains the general manager's file on government-owned ordnance facilities built and operated by DuPont during World War II. These files are arranged in seven sub-series that reflect the original filing system maintained by the Explosives Department. Included in this series are contracts for the design, construction, and operation of plants for the manufacture of smokeless powder; trinitrotoluene and other materials essential to the war effort; and supplemental agreements and change orders for the contracts. In addition, there is an extensive body of correspondence with the staff of the department's Military Explosives Division, as well as the Army Ordnance Department's field director of ammunition plants, regarding the status of these projects. The bulk of these records are files from Edward B. Yancey's tenure as general manager. Upon his retirement in 1944, Yancey was succeeded by William H. Ward.

Series III contains the files of Charles E. Seymour. Seymour was employed as powder superintendent at the Alabama Ordnance Works from 1942 to 1943. Following a brief stint as a consultant for the Engineering Department, he served in succession as powder superintendent, production superintendent, and general superintendent at the Gopher ordnance works from 1943 to 1945. After the war ended, Seymour was the casting area superintendent at the Old Hickory cellophane plant. He worked as powder superintendent at the Indiana ordnance works from 1952 to 1958, following the plant's reactivation. These records are divided into three sub-series. Sub-series A consists of a compilation of training and operating manuals, technical reports, memoranda, and related correspondence concerning all aspects of smokeless powder production. Sub-series B contains similar materials from specific ordnance facilities. Sub-series C includes numerous publications on subjects ranging from labor laws and safety guidelines to job training and quality control.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Literary rights retained by depositor.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, Explosives Department records
Status:
Author:
Robert Reed and Sara Mellinger
Date:
2001
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Revision Statements

  • 2021: Laurie Sather

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400