His idyllic childhood ended, however, in 1877 when Alfred’s father and mother died of illness within a month of one another. The future of the five duPont orphans was in the hands of elder relatives.
When word reached the five siblings that they would have to leave the family home, Swamp Hall, and be sent to live with various duPont relatives, young Alfred, who was 13 at the time, led a rebellion to keep his family intact. The children armed themselves with a rolling pin, an axe, an antique pistol, and a twelve-gauge shotgun and refused to back down. They eventually won a victory. They were all sent off to boarding school, but they were able to keep ownership of Swamp Hall.
At 18, after attending Phillips Andover Academy, Alfred entered Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was not an exceptional student, but he showed a knack for all things mechanical. At MIT, he studied mathematics, chemistry, shop work, and German. He was a champion boxer at Andover and MIT. He also enjoyed himself in the evening, often attending theater and concerts in Boston with his cousin, T. Coleman duPont, who was a year ahead of Alfred at MIT.