Eleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours (June 24, 1771 - October 31, 1834) was a French chemist who came to the United States in 1800, and founded what is now the E.I. du Pont de Nemours Company -- Du Pont -- one of the oldest corporations in the United States.

Irénée was born in Nemours, south of Paris, the son of the French economist and political writer Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours and Nicole Marie Louis le Deé. He took an interest in chemistry due to his father's associate, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, who shared the leftist political leanings of his father. Lavoisier was a chemist who ran the French government's powder works at Essone, and the younger du Pont was apprenticed to him in 1787. Irénée was eventually promoted to first assistant in Lavoisier's laboratory. However, both Lavoisier and the elder du Pont were caught up in the French Revolution. Lavoisier had made enemies among some of those in power during the revolution, and he was beheaded in 1794, in a purge of French scientists and intellectuals of the ancien régime. Earlier, when Lavoisier was removed from his position at the gunpowder works in 1791, Irénée was fired along with him, and took up work at the elder du Pont's printing house. Samuel du Pont was a proponent of constitutional monarchy, and was attacked as a counterrevolutionary by the Jacobins for his views. Irénée's older brother Victor was the French Consul General and frequently visited the United States on diplomatic matters; he had a good opinion of the new republic, so Samuel and the entire du Pont family eventually fled to the United States in 1799, arriving on New Year's Day, 1800.

The family settled temporarily in New Jersey, and while there, Irénée found that American gunpowder was very expensive and of low quality while hunting with friends. This sparked his interest in starting his own powder mill, using what he had learned from Lavoisier in France. He acquired land along the Brandywine River in northern Delaware, where he founded his first black powder mill -- the Eleutherian Mills -- in 1802. The Brandywine River (more the size of a large creek) was not navigable, but due to the number of natural falls throughout that region, was an ideal location to set up a millworks. It was also very close to the ports of Wilmington and Philadelphia.

The du Pont mills produced their first powder in 1804, and soon orders for powder skyrocketed, driven by domestic demand, particularly by the new nation's military. Eventually, du Pont became the largest gunpowder supplier in the United States, particularly during the War of 1812. The company started out deeply in debt due to the large capital outlays required for mill construction and technical improvements, and was threatened with liquidation by Irénée's French creditors. However, Irénée eventually made the company profitable, and ran it until his death in 1834 in Philadelphia. He had seven children: sons Alfred, Henry, and Alexis, and daughters Victorine, Evelina, Eleuthera, and Sophie. All seven children inherited part ownership in the company, though only the sons ran it. The family continues as one of the more important political and economic "dynasties" in the US.

The Brandywine mills still exist, though production stopped in 1921. The mills and nearby estate now make up the Hagley Museum north of Wilmington -- many of the old du Pont estates (including Winterthur) were converted to museums and public parks over the years. The modern day du Pont company headquarters and the du Pont Experimental Station lie on a plateau on the opposite side of the Brandywine River, less than a mile from the old mills.

Sources: Personal experience -- I grew up in Wilmington, and visited the Hagley Museum on many school field trips. It is not far from where I used to live, and is a good place for hiking. More factual info taken from an excellent bio at http://www.chemheritage.org/HistoricalServices/eminentchemists/EIduPont/eidupont.htm, du Pont's website at http://www.dupont.com/corp/overview/history.index.html, and the Columbia Encyclopedia at http://www.bartleby.com/65/du/DuPont-E.html