Hagley Museum
Site of the Original du Pont Powder Mills

Wilmington, DE

October 10th, 2001

It is rare when in the course of our travels, I get to combine several of my interest into one adventure. This was the case during our stay in Wilmington Delaware. Here I was able to combine my love for war, blowing things up, and all those other manly acts, with the beauty of nature and my collection of tree photographs which I started several years ago, not to mention a good exposure to a section of American industrial revolutionary history. Along the banks of the picturesque Brandywine river, just outside Wilmington, lies a stretch of land known as Hagley. On a warm fall day, we wandered the banks and lanes around this area, spending a most enjoyable afternoon with squirrels and old ruins of one of America's most successful industrial companies' humble beginnings. Our first stop was at the visitor's center for some history on this man and his ingenious inventions. The center is located in the old Henry Clay Mill which was constructed in 1814 as a cotton mill. In 1884 it was converted to the manufacturing of metal kegs for packing explosives. The model of Henry Clay Mill inside, depicts a cotton factory of the 1830s containing approximately 5000 spindles, 140 looms and employing up to 250 men, women and children. On the first floor, bales of raw cotton are opened, prepared for carding on four spreading machines, combed into loose ropes on the seven carders, and twisted and lengthened on the two roving machines at the far right. On the second floor, the cotton is spun into finished yarn. The looms on the third floor weave the yarn into cloth. All machinery in the building was driven by waterpower supplied from the Brandywine via the millrace. After a proper orientation including a short film, we wandered off to be on our own as we explored the ruins of the old powder mills that dotted the banks of the river. In 1802, a man with great insight purchased 65 acres along the banks of the river, where he would build his first powder factory. Eleutherian Irenee du Pont, the creator of the present day du Pont Chemical Co. got his start along these banks. E. I du Pont wanted to make gun powder, a process that had been around for centuries after its inception in China. The problem was that the product was a combination of three ingredients, mixed together as evenly as possible. Up until the opening of the du Pont mills, gunpowder was manufactured by pounding it in large industrial mortar and pestle type devices. It did not produce a very uniform mixture and once compressed it had a bad tendency to literally blow up in your face. To improve uniformity and thus quality, du Pont decided to roll the mixture under huge iron rollers. To do this he needed a lot of power and the Brandywine was perfect for the job. With dams built and raceways added he was soon producing the finest grade of gunpowder available in the world. Just in time for the war of 1812, Gunpowder was also an indispensable product in construction, from roads to canals. It even showed up on farms where the tiresome chore of digging out stumps was reduced to a drill hole and a powder charge. The need for powder grew every year, war or no war. Whether it was to be moved, or removed, du Pont powders were there to lend a hand. The Brandywine River drops 33 feet from the upper dam at Eleutherian Mills to the dam visible from outside the visitor's center. It was this potential power that led E. I du Pont to locate his powder works here. The du Ponts' built dams and raceways to carry water to waterwheels and turbines.

                      HOME PAGE      Next >>>>>      Next