Environmental Respect 2016: DuPont’s History, From Swords To Plows

Hagley Museum

For 26 years now, DuPont Crop Protection has been sponsoring the annual Environmental Respect Awards program, honoring the world’s top ag retailers in the area of environmental stewardship. And part of this effort involves allowing attendees of the event to learn more about the company that created such a program in the first place.

DuPont Gunpowder

DuPont sold its gunpowder to the Union Army during the American Civil War.

On the second day of the Environmental Respect Award event for 2016, visitors had the chance to visit Hagley, where the DuPont family began the company that bears their name back in 1802. In those days, the company didn’t support the agricultural marketplace at all. Instead, the DuPont Co. made black powder, a mix of potassium nitrate, sulfur, and charcoal. At first, this material was used exclusively to make blasting powder for the nation’s construction industry. However, by the mid-1860s, DuPont was making gunpowder, selling this to the Union Army during the years of the American Civil War and the company’s future fortunes were secured.

For Environmental Respect Award attendees, learning where the materials used in DuPont’s black powder formulation was eye-opening and struck close-to-home. The potassium nitrate came from India, home country for the 2016 Environmental Respect Award winner Akshatha Agro Vet Agencies. And the sulfur was sourced from just off the coast of Italy, home country to 2016 Environmental Respect Award winner Terremerse.

“I had no idea DuPont’s original business relied on materials from these parts of the world,” said Peter Birch, a representative from B&W Rural, a 2016 Environmental Respect Award winner from Australia.

By 1921, DuPont had exited the black powder production industry. Instead, the company turned its attention towards various peacetime endeavors such as the creation of nylon and eventually developing a host of crop protection products for the agricultural industry.

But as Hagley Tour Guide Elaine Croft pointed out to attendees, many of the positive developments by DuPont can trace their origins back to the early days of the company in the black powder business. “In those early years, DuPont had a reputation as one of the safest companies to work for in the entire U.S., even though the product being produced was very dangerous to work with,” said Croft. “And many of the practices regarding safety and protecting the environment in which the company did business probably helped shape DuPont into the company that honors safety-minded companies like yourselves today.”