DuPont Powder Mills
On the banks of the Brandywine, one-half mile northeast of this crossroad, Eleuthere Irenee
DuPont DeNemours built in 1802 the first DuPont Powder Mills in America. Powder was
manufactured there for the United States Government in the War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil
War, Spanish American War and Great War. The Old Mills were abandoned in 1921.
Jacob Broom built a cotton mill on the site in 1795. The mill burned down in 1797, and in 1802
he sold the site, complete with a working dam and millrace to Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, who
paid $6,740 for the 95 acres (380,000 m2).
The first domestic supplies of high-quality gunpowder were made in the USA by E. I. du Pont
de Nemours and Company. The company was founded in 1802 by E.I. du Pont, two years
after he and his family left France to escape the French Revolution.
Original DuPont powder wagon
They set up the Eleutherian gunpowder mill on the Brandywine Creek just north of
Wilmington, Delaware, based on gunpowder machinery bought from France and site plans for
a gunpowder mill supplied by the French Government. They also built housing for 30 workers.
Starting, initially, by reworking damaged gunpowder and refining saltpetre for the US
Government they quickly moved into gunpowder manufacture.
Saltpetre was refined in an area between the house and the mills that now is occupied by a
formal garden. Charcoal was produced from the willow trees that lined the Brandywine.
By the end of 1804, DuPont had sold 39,000 pounds of powder; the following year sales tripled.
The Federal government and John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company became regular
customers. In 1813 the Hagley property, just downstream from the original mills, was
purchased, doubling the size and capacity of the mills. Sales grew during the Mexican-American
War and the Crimean War. During the American Civil War, the firm sold 4,000,000 barrels of
powder to the Federal government.
A major explosion killed 33 people in 1818. Another major explosion occurred on the site in
1847. In 1854 three gunpowder wagons exploded in the city of Wilmington.
The mill buildings used in the manufacture of gunpowder were built with strong stone-walled
structures on three sides; but were only covered by light wood structures on the fourth side,
which faced out onto the Brandywine Creek. When an accident occurred, the explosion was
directed away from the other mills and storage areas and over the creek.
Water power was provided from a mill race behind the mills, thus further isolating the mills in
case of accident. One water wheel was often used to provide power to two mills. Water turbines
were introduced in the 1840s. Alfred Victor du Pont acquired additional property, down stream
from the Eleutherian Mills, to add to the manufacturing site. One of these properties was called
Hagley, and it became known as the Hagley Yard.
Unrestored mill on the Brandywine
Most of the industrial remains are located in the Hagley Yard. The mills were used in the
purification, crushing, and mixing of charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter. Other mills in the complex
were used for glazing and corning, making metal powder kegs, and in cotton and woolen
manufacturing. Stables, offices, a machine shop, and a steam powerhouse from the late 19th
century also were located in the complex, as was a narrow gauge railway.
Rundown and closure
After the introduction of smokeless powder, the mills were to be closed in the 1910s, but were
kept open at the request of the Federal government until after the end of World War I.
In 1952 family members donated 185 acres (0.75 km2) of land and the DuPont company
established a $6,000,000 endowment for the Eleutherian Mill-Hagley Foundation for a museum
of industrial history.
The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966. It is located on Delaware Route 141
at the Tyler McConnell Bridge spanning the Brandywine Creek.
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