The Past, Present and Future of DuPont
The company and family continue to have influence on First Staters’ lives.
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In the early 1970s, “The Company” filled at least three office buildings in downtown Wilmington and more on its outskirts, its chemists and managers lived side by side in comfortable suburban areas like Brandywine Hundred, its manufacturing sites stretched from Edgemoor on the banks of the Delaware River to Seaford in southwestern Sussex County, and its employees comprised a significant bloc in Delaware’s General Assembly.
Today, says former Gov. Pete du Pont, “it’s still a big company, but it’s not quite as broad as it once was across the state.”
Indeed, while DuPont, the company (with the capital D and no space before the P), may no longer dominate Delaware, “it makes a unique impression on the state,” University of Delaware historian Jonathan Russ says, and it does so in a way that no other company has anywhere in the nation.
And the same holds true for du Pont, the family (with a lower-case d and a space before the P), still unquestionably Delaware’s first. (Sorry, Joe and Beau, but your roots are in Pennsylvania, and you haven’t been here for 212 years.)
Members of the latest generation “may not have the name du Pont, and they may not be the richest people on the block, but they have a sense of civic-mindedness that mandates that they give back in some way,” says Charlie Copeland, a du Pont with a different surname who gives back by serving on numerous nonprofit boards and as state chairman of the Republican Party.
“There’s probably as much money today in the du Pont family, maybe more, but it’s dispersed over many, many more people than it once was,” says former Gov. Mike Castle.
In different ways, du Pont, Russ, Copeland and Castle are echoing each other. What we see—of both the family and the company—may have changed, but their essence has not. And the change we see in Delaware is the result of the change that envelops us—the inevitable generational branching that extends wealth and influence farther from its roots and the globalization that has made the company town, or in Delaware’s case, the company state, increasingly anachronistic.
“Today, when somebody says ‘the company state,’ I think of it as meaning ‘the state where everybody incorporates,’” says Fred Sears, the son of a former DuPont Co. personnel manager who went to work for Delaware Trust Co., a bank started by members of the du Pont family, and is now head of the Delaware Community Foundation.