Pierre Samuel du Pont (1870-1954)


Twenty-year-old Pierre du Pont reported for duty at the familyís powder works in 1890 brimming with enthusiasm and new ideas. He was fresh out of MIT, where, unlike some of his dropout cousins, he had been a diligent, even ravenous student. So fulfilling were his studies that on the last day he lingered misty eyed in the chemistry lab long after his classmates had cleaned up and gone home. But the new job turned out to be a shocking disappointment. In the dingy shed that passed for a lab, he could find little modern equipment and even less responsibility. The powder works along the Brandywine Creek in Delaware were still built with flimsy wall to vent the force of the all-too-common explosions without destroying the rest of the building. A dynamite blast in New Jersey had killed Pierreís father years before.


After eight frustrating years at the mercy of older cousins and three spent running an ailing street-railway company in Lorain, Ohio, Pierre teamed up with two cousins to buy Du Pont from the Old Guard for $12 million-in a deal so skillfully structured that the three put up not one dime of their own money. Over the next 17 years-first as treasurer, then president- Pierre, aided by a brilliant lieutenant, John Raskob, molded the antiquated powder company into a vast modern corporation with strong financial controls and forward planning. He seized every opportunity to harness the chemicals used in explosives to make less lethal products and poured Du Pontís huge World War I profits into diversification, including huge blocks of General Motors stock.


When William Durant, GMís shrewd but erratic founder, lost control of his company in 1920, Pierre became president. He reorganized GMís chaotic finances and fiddled with the product line, putting Cadillac at the top and Chevrolet at the bottom. Most important, he picked Alfred P. Sloan as chief administrator, and ultimate successor, because Sloan believed in the same kind of scientific-management system Pierre had installed at Du Pont. When Pierre retired to tend his gardens in 1923, he had helped create two huge corporations in two very different industries.