Final Word: Humor Column: DuPont Co.: Wilmington Trust: Wilmington Dry Goods: Gino's: Big Al Meltzer: Jack Hunter: DuPont Magazine
The ‘Mad Men’-like days at the DuPont Co.—white shirts, ties, two-martini lunches—have gone the way of the ashtray.
illustration by Craig LaRotonda
The demise of Wilmington Trust was yet another reminder of how much has changed since I moved here 45 years ago.
Ah, those were the days: friendly sales clerks at Wilmington Dry Goods addressing everyone as “hon”; Gino’s fast-food restaurant edging McDonald’s in popularity; drive-in movies with playgrounds—the perfect family night out; TV sports delivered by the incomparable Big Al Meltzer and the legendary Tom Brookshier, with my young son acting as the remote control, switching the huge Philco console from Channel 3 to 10, then back again. Only mildly disconcerting was the native Delawareans’ habit of calling my new employer “DuPont’s,” almost as if they knew the family personally.
And our bank? Yeah, Wilmington Trust over Delaware Trust, every time.
Working at the bucolic DuPont Country Club was a veritable Valhalla. Boasting the exalted title “Communications Coordinator,” I produced a monthly six-page newsletter about club activities. Within a couple of months I was so desperate to fill the eight-hour day that I started a safety newsletter, appropriately titled “The Fishwrapper.” Maximizing worker efficiency wasn’t DuPont’s strong suit in those halcyon days of soaring stock prices and exploding markets for Teflon, Dacron, Orlon and Lycra.
Our weekly management meetings, conducted under a cloud of cigarette smoke, were a cliché of the 1960s business world—white men, wearing white shirts and rep ties. Diversity? Well, we had a French chef.
In 1968 I moved downtown to DuPont Magazine, edited by Jack Hunter, the locally famous author of “The Blue Max,” a novel Hollywood turned into a 1966 movie with George Peppard and Ursula Andress. Again, DuPont was not yet into lean staffing. To produce the 32-page bimonthly publication, we had an editor and three “associate editors,” a contract art director and two secretaries (No, they were not referred to as “administrative assistants”).
Later I joined a marketing group, where we prepared the hospitality bag for the business’ 50th anniversary meeting. After many brainstorming sessions, we decided on the perfect commemorative centerpiece for the bag of freebies: a large, white ceramic ashtray.
With a workforce that was roughly 95 percent male, business meetings were laced with testosterone. In the evenings, some played cards, others hit the hotel bar, and a large contingent went out on the town. We had a simple credo: “Drink slow and sleep fast.”
Ah, the drinking. The TV hit “Mad Men” has nailed that custom of the ad industry—although I never saw an actual bar in someone’s office, as the show depicts. With more than 30 local and national agencies constantly wooing us, two-martini lunches were not uncommon. Leoune’s Town Talk Restaurant, across from the Brandywine Building, was a favorite spot. The snapper soup was particularly tasty, more so when enhanced with a few drops of sherry.
Everything has changed, of course. Drive-ins are gone, along with most of the local ad agencies and DuPont Magazine, the latter a victim of continual cutbacks in personnel. DuPont introduced a casual Fridays dress code in the late ’80s that soon morphed into everyday casual, so the white shirts and ties also are things of the past. Company buildings have been smoke-free for some time, and there are far fewer and much less boisterous sales meetings.
Oh, yes, and the CEO, who seems to be doing a bang-up job, is a woman.