E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company has been one of the world's largest industrial companies for more than a century. Its beginnings date back more than 200 years when the Dupont family immigrated to America from France. And it was the family patriarch who owed a debt of gratitude to Poland.
Pierre Samuel Dupont was born in Paris in 1739 into a family neither rich nor poor. He received a decent education and after he left home he lived a hand-to-mouth existence while deciding on his life's calling. He began writing about economics and society and his theories drew the attention of influential people. Soon he was recognized as a serious thinker who could contribute to the betterment of French society.
By 1770, Dupont was writing for prestigious journals and began to be hired by the government for certain tasks that could use his expertise. But he did not earn a decent living in this manner. He fell into serious debt as owner of a magazine that was closed by the French government in 1772. He struggled to produce an income by writing reports for foreign officials, and this gained him international recognition.
Still in debt in 1774 and with a family to feed, an offer of employment came from an unexpected source. Prince Adam Czartoryski, brother-in-law of King Stanisław of Poland, had read much of Dupont's work and agreed with his ideas. The Prince wanted to hire a tutor for his four year old son Adam Jerzy (who would later be President of the Insurrection of 1830 and "uncrowned king" of Poland) and Pierre Dupont's name came up. An offer was made by Czartoryski of 10,000 francs per year, apartments in his palace, travel expenses to Warsaw, carriages, an official title and a bonus of 100,000 francs after ten years. This was a veritable fortune.
Yet Dupont balked because of a chance to serve as foreign ambassador of the German state of Baden in Paris. The Prince sweetened his offer. He would see the Frenchman was appointed Secretary of the Commission of National Education and Director of the National Academy in Warsaw, and pay a third of the bonus in advance.
This was too enticing to turn down. Only in his dreams could Dupont imagine such a position and income in France. With his 33,000 franc advance, he bought an estate near Nemours in France, with the intention of returning to it with his family after his ten years in Warsaw.
Though reluctant to leave France, in late July 1774, he, his wife Marie and two young sons Victor and Eleuthere Irenee, packed up and embarked on a long coach ride across the rutted roads of central Europe. They did not arrive in Warsaw until early September. Dupont detested tutoring and probably did little of it. But Prince Czartoryski employed ten tutors for his children, so Dupont's neglect made little difference. However, he was thoroughly interested in his duties as Secretary of the Commission of Education.
He wrote lengthy reports and recommendations on Polish parochial schools, universities, and the abolition of serfdom. He believed that a solid system of national education would reinvigorate Poland after the demoralizing first partition of the country in 1772. Read about the progressive reforms of the Commission of National Education in Poland.
But Dupont was soon disappointed when he realized the government could not afford to adopt his proposals. He quickly judged the situation in Poland hopeless, what with lack of revenue, foreign interference and a lazy and disinterested nobility.
Dupont's frustrations were to be brief. King Louis XVI had succeeded to the French throne, and now one of Dupont's allies, A.R.J. Turgot, was appointed Controller General of Finances there. Turgot wanted Dupont as his assistant. Arrangements were made between King Louis and Prince Czartoryski allowing the Frenchman to be freed from his obligations in Poland, and he returned to Paris in late December. Pierre Dupont's venture in Poland had lasted less than four months. He was permitted to keep the advance money from Czartoryski, which allowed him to keep his estate at Nemours.
For the next several years, Dupont was in and out of government service depending on the way the chaotic political winds blew. He often found himself in dire financial straits, but at those times he could always rely on income from the Nemours estate that he had purchased with the Czartoryski advance. In time it became profitable enough, along with Dupont's other earnings, to provide the family a second home in Paris, carriages, expensive clothes, and a servant or two. Owning the land also gave him extended voting rights and proof of citizenship.
In 1799, Dupont ran afoul of Napoleon and decided to flee to America with his family. Here, with his wealth intact, he founded a trading brokerage, and he established his two sons in subsidiary companies. He corresponded with Jefferson, and Dupont wrote for him an elaborate treatise on education in America, as he had done for Poland decades earlier. He delivered a eulogy to Joel Barlow, the American diplomat who died in Poland while on a mission to Napoleon.
After a few years the elder Dupont's company and son Victor's failed. Eleuthere's business, a gunpowder factory, survived, thrived and became today's E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Compnay, simply known as DuPont. There is no doubt that the younger Dupont's business acumen made him successful, but the foundation of the company's success can also be traced back to that family estate in Nemours, acquired with the generous payment from Prince Czartoryski.
Read about The Radicalism of the May 3rd Constitution