A Career Begins, 1884-1901

After the death of a favorite uncle, Lammot duPont, in an explosion at a DuPont chemical plant in 1884, Alfred decided to rethink his priorities. Another uncle, Fred duPont, in Louisville offered him a job in his paper mill or as a writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Alfred had shown some interest in a career as a writer, but always true to his role as a bearer of the family tradition, he realized his place was in Brandywine, working in the family business. At the age of 20 Alfred left MIT and went to work as a common laborer in the DuPont Company’s Hagley gunpowder mills.

He worked his way up to yard supervisor, and along the way earned the reputation as one of the nation’s top powder men. He not only mastered the art of making gunpowder but also invented new machinery to improve the gunpowder-making process. In all, he registered over 200 patents during his life, mostly for machinery and equipment used in the powder-making process. “Most of my inventions were powder making machinery which led to greater safety, the elimination of men from the mills, and reducing the number of accidents, handling large amounts of powder at one time,” he said of his contributions.

For the next 14 years, Alfred worked his way up through the DuPont Company. In 1898 Alfred proved himself when he was handed the improbable task of producing incredibly large amounts of brown powder for the U.S. military in the Spanish American War. But Alfred organized the effort, put in 18-hour days working alongside his crew, and delivered the gunpowder as promised.