The philanthropy and profound influence of the wealthy du Pont family in Delaware has been in evidence for more than 200 years.
The red, oval DuPont Co. logo, once atop the Brandywine Building and a major part of skyline in downtown Wilmington, was both a beacon and reminder to residents and visitors about the most prominent company and family in the state.
Members of the du Pont family became leaders in Delaware’s economy, society and public life.
Schools, buildings, roadways, a major hotel and a country club are some of the other landmarks in the state that bear the du Pont name, although sometimes the company and family name have different capitalizations and spacing.
The du Ponts, are “the bedrock upon which life is based in Delaware,” historian Carol E. Hoffecker, a native Delawarean who has written numerous books and journal articles about the state, told The News Journal in 2000.
“The philanthropic activities of these people were essential,” she said.
But does the du Pont name still have the cachet it once had in Delaware, and well beyond state lines?
Some might say the influence waned when the family, who led the DuPont Co. for most of the 20th century, ended its control in the 1970s.
But an even more recent sign about a shift in culture is the announcement that by late summer Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Rockland, as well as a hospital run by the organization in Orlando, Florida, will be dropping the name of founder Alfred I. duPont.
The hospital, which has carried the du Pont name in Delaware for more than 80 years, will be rebranded as Nemours Children’s Hospital.
Alfred I. duPont, a Wilmington native, industrialist and financier, funded pensions for the elderly in Delaware and wanted to aid handicapped children.Earlier:Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children to change its name this summer
After his 1935 death at age 70, he willed much of his fortune for the establishment of what is now considered one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals, offering, among other things, world-class pediatric orthopedic care.
But now, only the “campus” in Rockland surrounding the hospital, including duPont’s lavish, open-to-the-public Nemours estate and gardens and the bell tower under which he is buried (along with his dog, wife and brother-in-law), is keeping his name.
Dr. Larry Moss, CEO of the health system which will become Nemours Children’s Health in August, said the change is being made because the organization is seeking a more national presence.
“Mr. duPont’s name is by no means going away and by no means going to be any less emphasized,” he told Delaware Online/The News Journal.
But du Pont family member Tatiana Copeland doesn’t see it that way.
“There is something wrong with this picture. It doesn’t seem right,” said Copeland, a Delaware resident. “My first feeling when I read about [the name change] was I felt sad. Was this necessary?”
Tatiana and her husband Gerret, great-great-great-grandson of DuPont’s founder, Eleuthère Irénée du Pont and the son of the DuPont Co.’s 11th president Lammot du Pont Copeland, are well-known for their commitment and funding for arts and culture in Delaware.
The couple has continued the du Pont legacy of philanthropy in the modern era by giving substantial sums of money to the area’s nonprofit institutions, including the Delaware Art Museum, Longwood Gardens and the Brandywine Valley SPCA.
Copeland said Alfred I. duPont’s contributions to the hospital should not be cast aside.
“A.I. is the one who started it and funded it and that name should have been kept,” she said. “Today’s world doesn’t value tradition. It’s a new world and a different world and you can see that in this name change.”
Copeland isn’t alone in her opinion that dropping duPont’s name is a sign of disrespect.
“Erasing history!” wrote one commenter on Delaware Online’s Facebook page.
Another said, “the consistent branding makes sense. But when they say it isn’t de-emphasizing his name, they give the impression that they [are] either fans of George Orwell, or they don’t understand what the word ‘de-emphasizing’ means – because that is precisely what they are doing, and they should just own that.”
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Still, others believe state residents simply will refer to the hospital as they have always done, no matter what the sign on the door reads.
“Well, a lot of us Delawareans still refer to Walgreens as ‘Happy Harry’s’ so I’m betting that most of us will continue to call the hospital A. I. duPont,” a Facebook commenter wrote.
The du Pont family has had a hold on the state not long after Pierre Samuel du Pont de Neumors, a nobleman in the court of King Louis XVI, escaped the guillotine after the French Revolution and came to the United States in 1800 with his son Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, a chemist.
Irénée started the DuPont Co. two years later when he began manufacturing gunpowder on the banks of the Brandywine, north of Wilmington.
It didn’t hurt that du Pont had encouragement of longtime family friend President Thomas Jefferson, who sent the company its first order.
E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. became one of the most successful corporations in the country. In 1822, du Pont was named a director of the Bank of the United States.
By World War I, the company had a near monopoly on the munitions market, before moving into other industries such as automobiles, media, plastics, paints, textiles and dyes, and later chemicals, life sciences and pharmaceuticals.
The DuPont Co. had family members among its highest ranks and kept its headquarters in Wilmington in a building called, not surprisingly, the DuPont Building.
The company, known locally as “Uncle Dupie,” has employed thousands in the state, many who stayed there for their entire careers and were rewarded with generous pensions. Generations of Delawareans knew it as one of the state’s top employers and admired the company’s sense of pride, loyalty and safety-first priorities.
Over the years, Delaware’s museums, like Winterthur, Hagley, Delaware Natural History and Delaware Art Museum, churches such as Christ Church Christiana Hundred, and theaters like Wilmington’s Playhouse were founded and funded with du Pont money.
The Greenville Country Club, Mount Cuba Center and Brantwyn Mansion, where many Delawareans hold wedding receptions, were former du Pont family homes.
The exclusive Bidermann Golf Club was originally the nine-hole private course of Winterthur founder Henry Francis du Pont, who also once owned the land that is now home to the Wilmington Country Club. Henry Francis du Pont’s father Henry A. du Pont was twice a U.S. senator.
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Delaware’s Route 13, the state’s major north-south roadway, was started by T. Coleman du Pont, another former U.S. Senator. He also owned hotels, including the Waldorf- Astoria Hotel in New York City, the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., and the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia.
Coleman’s cousin Pierre du Pont spent millions to improve the state’s public schools.
Pierre also made sure his estate Longwood Gardens, more than 1,077 acres of lush gardens just over the Delaware state line in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, would remain open to public and thrive after his 1954 death.
Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children is the legacy of Alfred I. duPont, who with his cousins Pierre and T. Coleman founded the modern-day DuPont Co. and saved it from being sold in 1902.
Alfred I. duPont, an orphan by age 13, was a man who was used to getting, and doing things, his way.
He dropped out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology at age 20 to work in the family powder yards, like four generations before him. DuPont worked his way up the ladder to a top leadership position, but there was no love lost between the cousins.
A dispute over stock holdings between Alfred and Pierre would forever harm their relationship, according to archives in the Delaware Historical Society. In 1916, Alfred was forced to leave the company.
Alfred’s strained relations with du Pont family members also simmered when he divorced his first wife, Bessie, who also was his cousin. In 1906. Alfred then cut off contact with her and their children except for his eldest, Madeleine duPont.
He further infuriated family when, with a week’s notice, he evicted his hated ex-wife from the family home, Swamp Hall, off Brecks Lane on the south side of the Brandywine near Hagley. He then had Swamp Hall razed.
In 1909, Alfred began construction on the opulent Nemours estate off Rockland Road for his new wife, Alicia. He named it after the duPont family’s ancestral home in France.
The 77-room, five-story, 47,000 square foot mansion was designed to look like Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles.
The estate is probably best well-known throughout the state for the glass shards that top the 10-foot stone wall surrounding its majestic grounds. Glass-topped walls built to enclose towns and villages were a practice commonplace in medieval France, but local lore claimed duPont wanted the glass shards in place in Delaware as a warning to his du Pont family relatives that they weren’t welcomed at his home.
A year after his wife Alicia’s 1920 death, duPont married Jessie Dew Ball, the daughter of an old friend. The pair would build an estate in Florida and invest in real estate there. DuPont then focused on philanthropy.
When he died at age 70, Alfred left most of his fortune to provide for healthcare for children. The Delaware hospital bearing his name opened in 1940.
The du Pont family’s wealth remains today, though according to a 2020 listing by Forbes magazine, the family’s worth of an estimated $16 billion is spread among about 4,000 heirs.
The du Pont name was made infamous in 1996 when heir John Eleuthère du Pont murdered Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz at his Pennsylvania estate.
John Eleuthère du Pont helped fund the Delaware Natural History Museum in Greenville as well as a basketball arena at Villanova University, which was named for him. After his conviction, du Pont’s name was removed from the facility. He died in prison in 2010.
One of the best known family members was likely Pierre Samuel “Pete” du Pont IV, who served as Delaware’s lone congressman from 1971 to 1977, and then as the state’s 68th governor from 1977 to 1985.
He was the first and last du Pont to hold the seat. He also sought the Republican U.S. presidential nomination in 1988, but dropped out after the New Hampshire primary. In recent years, he wrote columns for the Wall Street Journal. Du Pont died in May.
In 2014, a major shift in the family’s long Delaware legacy occurred when the venerable DuPont Co. moved its corporate headquarters to the suburbs after serving as the heart of downtown Wilmington for 107 years.
Its chapter in the city was closed for good when the red oval DuPont logo sign was removed from the downtown Wilmington headquarters.
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In 2015, DuPont spun off its performance chemicals division into a standalone, publicly traded company given the clunky name of Chemours, a play on chemicals and Nemours. DuPont merged with competitor Dow Chemical in 2017, then split into three companies two years later.
But not everyone has scrubbed the du Pont heritage.
In 2017, Wilmington-based developer Buccini/Pollin acquired, but did not change the name, of the historic Hotel du Pont, widely considered Wilmington’s “front door” ever since it opened in 1913.
“We are extremely proud that DuPont has entrusted The Buccini/Pollin Group and PM Hotel Group as stewards of this great hotel,” said David B. Pollin, co-founder and co-president of The Buccini/Pollin Group, at the time of the sale.
“We see ownership of the Hotel du Pont as a public trust and will work with the Wilmington community to ensure its next 103 years are as — or more — successful as its first 103 years,” Pollin said.
And when the DuPont Country Club was sold in 2018, its name remained.
Perhaps it’s no surprise as to why it stayed the same – one of the new owners is Ben du Pont, the youngest son of the late Pete du Pont. The club celebrated its 100th anniversary in April 2020.
Staff reporter Meredith Newman contributed to this article.
Contact Patricia Talorico at (302) 324-2861 or email@example.com and on Twitter @pattytalorico