DuPont Company powder explosion reports1909-1973
E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company is a chemical company more commonly referred to as the DuPont company. Originally established as a black powder manufactory in 1802, the company eventually ventured into explosives, creating the Explosives Department in 1903. This small collection contains six reports on black powder and other accidental explosions at DuPont facilities. Additional materials are related to the DuPont Company's activities in the explosives industry. These include a history of explosions at the Brandywine Works from 1815 to 1898 and the Carney's Point Works from 1893 to 1903.
- E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company (Organization)
E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company is a chemical company more commonly referred to as the DuPont company. The company was originally established as a black powder manufactory in 1802 by Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739-1817) and his son Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771-1834). The Du Pont family purchased the Eleutherian Mills site on the banks of the Brandywine River just north of Wilmington, Delaware. In 1813, E.I. du Pont expanded downstream by purchasing what became Hagley Yards.
During wartime, the company was a major supplier for the United States government. During peacetime, the company marketed its product towards sportsmen and hunters. Throughout much of the nineteenth century, the powder-making operation on the Brandywine expanded as the company acquired many buildings that had begun as other industrial sites. At one time, the Brandywine Works comprised four main yards: Eleutherian Mills (also known as Upper Yard), Upper Hagley Yard, Lower Hagley Yard, and Lower Yard, which was located on the eventual site of the Experimental Station.
By the early twentieth century, the company had begun to shift its focus away from gunpowder production and towards chemistry innovations. The company closed the Brandywine powder yards in 1921, it having remained open for the duration of the First World War, and in 1926 the company formally dissolved its entire powder production unit.
The DuPont Company purchased the land for a smokeless powder plant at Carney's Point, New Jersey, (across the Delaware River from Wilmington, Delaware) in 1890. In 1892, it produced its first guncotton and smokeless powder. The plant grew in response to demand from the Spanish-American War but boomed during World War I. The thousands of workers then employed were provided with company housing in a workers' village. The plant continued production into the early 1970s, when it was abandoned and dismantled.
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.
The Barksdale, Wisconsin, high explosives works began production in 1905. It was located in the northern part of Wisconsin on Lake Superior. During World War I, the Navy built a large TNT plant there. The Barksdale Works closed in 1971.
The Belin plant in Moosic, Pennsylvania, was built by DuPont in 1908 to produce black powder, which it was doing by 1912. When the Belin plant started producing it in sufficient amounts, the DuPont Company closed their other two plants in Wapwallopen, Pennsylvania, and Wilmington, Delaware. Belin was the only plant in the United States producing black powder by the 1960s. In 1972, DuPont sold it to Gearhart-Owen when it exited black powder manufacturing entirely.
By the mid-1930s, there were significant advances in manufacturing military explosives. However, these improvements had only 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. They agreed to draw up plans to construct 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 to construct 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.
By the 1970s, the DuPont Company had virtually gone out of the explosives business, and in 1971, the Explosives Department became part of the Polymer Intermediates Department.
Scope and Contents
This small collection contains six reports on black powder and other accidental explosions at DuPont facilities, as well as additional materials related to the DuPont Company's activities in the explosives industry. These include a history of explosions at the Brandywine Works from 1815 to 1898 and the Carney's Point Works from 1893 to 1903.
The accident reports are from explosions that occurred at Waverley in Nova Scotia in 1935, two from the Belin Works in 1938 and another in 1961, the 1945 explosion at the Glaze Mill at the DuPont Works, and a 1955 explosion at the Barksdale Works. Additionally, there is a 1944 report on explosions and fires at DuPont facilities.
There are copies of a union contract with the United Powder and High Explosives Workers of America, Local No. 107, Jermyn, Pennsylvania, dated 1909; data on powder production by grades; and notes on the closing of the Belin Works, the last DuPont black powder facility, in 1972-1973. There is a transcript of former DuPont Company president Crawford H. Greenewalt's testimony before the Judiciary Committee on the study of monolopies.
This collection is open for research.
Language of Materials
- E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company (Organization)
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- DuPont Company powder explosion reports
- Laurie Sather
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PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA