Rule Pontiania, DuPont Rules the…

Every year millions of tourists from around the world visit London, Europe’s largest city (if Britain can even be included in Europe). They do not travel there because it is cheap, like so many Far Eastern package holiday destinations; nor for the weather, which can scarcely match that of the Mediterranean or Caribbean. It is certainly not for the food, which only becomes edible above the 50 (dollar, euro, pound, take your pick) per meal price range. London’s theatre is also not what it used to be. No, London’s greatest attraction is the legacy of an empire upon which the sun never set. ((The Habsburg Empire was so described before the British leaped ahead in the 19th century.))

They don’t come from Jacksonville, Des Moines, or Tokyo to dine at a take-away or stroll the breadth of Clapham Junction. Instead tourism is concentrated in Central London: that is mainly ducal Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The more medievally curious may wander to the Square Mile ((The City of London is known as “the square mile” because of its statutory limits. It is the home to the largest concentration of banks in the world. The medieval remnants of London are to be found there as well as the Tudor heritage; e.g., the Tower. The City is self-governing and not subject to the laws or ordinances adopted by the rest of Greater London. Another peculiarity of the City is that the livery companies—the successors to the medieval guilds—constitute entities with voting rights; e.g., to elect the Lord Mayor, the city’s chief executive. The principle of US constitutional law (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad 118 US 394 of 1886) endowing corporations with the same legal rights, privileges and immunities as natural citizens has its precedent in the City’s system of governance. Although the Supreme Court made no reference to the City’s royal charter, the principle of corporate personality has a long tradition in English common law.)) to gawk at Tudor artefacts. But the most prominent tourist attractions remain the monuments, pageantry and the helmeted police constables of what is erroneously claimed by many to be the world’s oldest continuing democracy.

Tourists queue for hours to catch a glimpse of the British monarch, tour the royal palaces and photograph themselves and their friends in front of the uniformed regiments that protect the wealth of a family whose present head can be considered the richest woman in the world. London impresses the visitor, especially from less ostentatious countries, with the sheer density of its traditions. What few seem to notice, however, is that London is probably the densest concentration of stolen wealth in the world, displayed under the watchful eyes and fully loaded weapons of the most colourfully clad killers on the planet.

Imagine whether Thomas Cooke, TUI or Priceline would offer the garrisons or prisons of Africa, Asia and South America as holiday destinations. Warmer temperatures, better beaches and tropical foliage with exotic wildlife await while the visitor queues each morning in hopes of seeing the dank cells or gallows where the people Britain robbed were gaoled, tortured or hanged. It might draw the odd sadist, lynch-mob veteran or the same type of person who flies to Charleston to visit the Old Slave Market. Unfortunately those places are not likely to make it into Baedeker or National Geographic.

Don’t get me wrong. I have been fascinated by London since my first visit there as a 15-year-old. I have spent considerable time walking its streets, attending cricket matches and even hours in the Strangers’ Galleries of the “mother of all parliaments”. In contrast to most of my friends, I believe the English do brew very good beer and have made a few tasty contributions to culinary art. But I have never understood the obsession with the British monarch among so many people who claim to value democracy. Whether one lives in Germany or some other ostensibly democratic republic, one can hear people routinely chattering about “the Queen” and her royal household as if she were their queen. Perhaps it is nostalgia that leads Germans to gossip about “the Queen” since the last time Germany had a Königin was 1917. Do so many people yearn to be subjects of Her Britannic Majesty? If so, why?

Probably the most impressive demonstration of British royal tradition can be seen every June on the monarch’s official birthday. That is when she (or some day he) reviews the Household Division at Horse Guards Parade in front of Whitehall Palace. At about 10 am the royal person is borne under heavy guard to the parade ground where companies representing the regiments of foot guards and cavalry that have protected royal wealth, privilege and plunder in Central London—or Afghanistan—from those whom it has demeaned, terrorised and murdered in the thousands march past the sovereign accompanied by military bands. The event is televised and yes, I admit it, I have watched it several times on-line, not without fascination. However, I have long been plagued by the question, “What am I really watching?”

Before I return to that question I would like to consider another ignominious dynasty, also one of the world’s richest families with roots in Europe’s aristocracy. This family built its palaces on the other side of the Atlantic in a former British colony, declared a republic but governed even today by uncrowned monarchs and untitled nobility.

The Du Pont family, or correctly the family founded by a French aristocrat by the name of Pierre du Pont de Nemours, owns among other things the State of Delaware. Of course, there are no gaily-dressed soldiers or quaintly hatted police to distinguish the Duchy of Delaware from the less noble principalities in the Union. Yet I can also attest that the first time I was transported through this state on I-95 toward the republic’s capital I felt the aura of an ugly but nonetheless peculiarly aristocratic dominion. Before I had ever heard of the family behind the name of the great chemical firm, I can remember telling my parents we must be travelling through the “Duchy of Du Pont”. Little did I know then that I was not the first person to make this observation. Nor did I grasp the significance of what I only concluded from the ubiquity of the name “Du Pont” between the New Jersey and Maryland state lines.

unnamedPierre du Pont responded to the impending threat to his head in revolutionary France by sending some of his family aboard the American Eagle to the United States, complete with furniture, clothes and some 241,000 francs, in search of freedom—to live and get rich—like so many thieves who have found refuge on the Eastern seaboard. There his children brought their share of the plentiful slave labour available in the “land of the free” and began a new life. ((Pontiania is the name Pierre du Pont gave to the private empire he intended to build with his family. p. 12.))

In 1802 the Du Ponts bought Broome farm on the banks of the Brandywine Creek, a tributary of the Christina River that flows through Pennsylvania and Northern Delaware.

“Here Irenée found Frenchmen, men who shared his culture, language, and even his political conservatism, being refugees from the successful slave revolt of Santo Domingo.” ((Haiti was founded after slaves successfully revolted against French colonists in the western half of the island of Santo Domingo. The other half was a Spanish colony that later became the Dominican Republic.)) Within a decade Broome Farm would be the country’s largest powder plant. ((pp. 13-14)) By 1810, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company was the largest producer of gunpowder in the United States. ((p. 20)) In 1824, Irenée du Pont was appointed a member of the board of directors of the Bank of the United States, with a monopoly over US currency. This centre of financial corruption bolstered the fortunes of many of America’s bluebloods until its charter expired and attempts to continue a second bank were defeated by Andrew Jackson’s political faction.

The US Civil War offered the Du Pont family further enrichment to the tune of more than a million dollars from the sale of powder.

In 1876 a financial crash, marked by the collapse of Jay Cooke’s bank ((Jay Cooke & Company was a merchant bank and brokerage house headquartered in Philadelphia. Its collapse marked the beginning of the Panic of 1873, the beginning of the longest depression, the so-called Long Depression, in US history until the 1929 crash, the Great Depression.)), started the long depression, lasting until the end of the century. As in all economic crises—perhaps they ought to be called major economic wars—DuPont was able to create the Powder Trust by sweeping together the remains of desperate or ruined competitors. Of course, the Du Ponts were not unique here. Rockefeller and Carnegie did the same thing in oil and steel respectively, joined in banking by J P Morgan. It was a great time for plutocrats to make money and an abysmal time to earn wages, if one was even employed. ((While depressions are usually decried as great calamities for peoples and countries, the distress is always unevenly allocated. Some of the great 20th century fortunes were made during the Great Depression; e.g., that of Howard Hughes. It might be more useful to see depressions not only as systemic failures but also as periods of heightened economic warfare as the most powerful capitalists attack both labour and their weaker competitors.))

However, like all trusts there remained a potential threat from small producers who did not follow the rules. Surely there were a battery of business tactics that could be used to tame or kill competitors but there is probably no better instrument for regulating commerce (for the benefit of the 1%) than the State itself. While “progressives” were beginning to agitate for trust busting, wage and hour laws, and edible food, the State eased the pains of its baronial class by declaring war: in this case, against Spain. As in the past, war meant gunpowder and with a little help from their friends, the company’s coffers were brimming while at the same time ruining those with no access to the Treasury or War Department. A war to seize the last of Spain’s overseas possessions gave DuPont another chance to expand at taxpayers’ expense.

Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders had no horses at San Juan Hill, but they did have an enthusiastic reporter, Richard Harding Davis. And “Long John” Thompson may have made only 18 cents an hour, but in four months DuPont delivered 2.2 million pounds of brown prismatic powder to the government at 33 cents a pound and Alfred (du Pont) was declared an unsung hero of the war. What also went unsung was the fraud the Du Ponts were committing. The powder they sold the government cost them only 8 cents a pound to produce. That was 320 per cent profit, extortion in anyone’s book.

From that short war, Du Ponts made over half a million dollars. ((p. 97))

Following a long established tradition of amassing wealth through cheap labour and government contracts, the Du Pont family would enter the 20th century as the nation’s premier weapons manufacturer. ((The dynastic founder, Pierre, loyally served the corrupt Bourbon monarchy in various offices and was created a baron in 1783. The motto on the family’s coat of arms Rectitudine Sto— means “by uprightedness I stand”. The Du Pont’s pride consisted in their claim to be the “armorers of the nation”. pp. 7-8. (Other families in the weapons industry with such dignities were the Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach (originally Krupp) and Cramer-Klett ennobled by under German monarchs in the 19th century. The Krupp and Cramer-Klett dynasties are defunct, although arms manufacture has continued through the corporations that succeeded them, Thyssen-Krupp and MAN.))) It also understood how to steal public assets for its own benefit. For example, despite DuPont’s claims to have perfected smokeless powder, it was the US Government that did. US Army officers had actually developed the new powder and the military actually held the patents. DuPont simply appropriated them. Friends in the military could be induced to help—with a few shares in the company. ((p. 107)) Afterwards they could, of course, increase the price to the government for products based on their new invention.

But as the 19th century was drawing to a close, popular opposition to the vast economic concentration that had occurred during the Long Depression was forcing even the corrupt in the nation’s capital to react. DuPont’s Powder Trust became the target of congressional investigation and prosecution under the new 1890 Sherman (Antitrust) Act. The intent of the legislation was to “protect competition” at least as an ideal. Corporate arrangements—often wholly or partly secret—which were intended to restrain competition, were to be prohibited by US law. Hence antitrust investigations were launched to determine whether business combinations restrained competition in interstate commerce (the only jurisdiction the federal government had under the Constitution) and to examine companies to identify unfair practices or arrangements. Although the Sherman Act was considered progressive in its day it was filled with ambiguities and constrained by the notion that the law should protect “competition” but not competitors.

In any case as the investigations proceeded. DuPont could again rely—at least in part—on friends. Having noted William H. Taft’s generally pro-business attitudes, DuPont donated 200,000 dollars to his campaign, a gift no doubt worthy of the friendship expected. DuPont was able to use this influence to stall and eventually neutralise the effects of trust busting directed at the firm. All it took was a tiny threat to have the investigation side-tracked. In a meeting with President Taft and his Attorney-General Wickersham, a former DuPont attorney, Alfred du Pont threatened to create a million unemployed if Du Pont were deprived of its military powder monopoly.

Do you mean to threaten the United States Government?” thundered Taft. Of course not, replied Alfred quietly, and then quietly repeated his threat of closing the plants the nation depended upon for commercial explosives; Taft’s resistance collapsed… The Dollar Diplomacy of armed intervention was for Big Business, not against it. The government of the United States, which could invade whole countries in Latin America, was simply no match for the Du Ponts of Delaware. Within a few hours it meekly surrendered. ((p. 126.))

World War I was “a great banquet of gold” for the Du Ponts who grossed over one billion dollars during the war. ((p.131)) The Du Ponts asked themselves what to do with this ever-expanding fortune—to keep it expanding, of course. The 1920s were the key years of Du Pont’s transition from powder to chemicals. The end of WWI would curtail the demand for powder in the US so DuPont went in search of foreign markets. DuPont sent its publicity chief C K Weston to find out who was representing the US at the armaments conferences in Geneva. With intensive lobbying, proposals for government control — e.g., of chemical weapons — were dropped from the agenda. DuPont owned substantial shares in the German chemical companies Köln-Rottweiler and Nobel, Ltd. (part of Imperial Chemical Industries, the successor to the Nobel dynamite firm in England). As early as 1924 DuPont’s European representative Colonel William Taylor was already confirming German rearmament to company headquarters.

DuPont lobbying and the active support by Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover assured that the US government would do everything in its power to support American exports—including weapons. In fact, the most important interest group represented at the Geneva Armaments Conference was not the peace movement but the weapons manufacturers. Allen Dulles was chief of the Near Eastern Division of the State Department (and later head of the CIA) at the time. He made it clear that control of the arms traffic would have to ignore the fact that Germany was exporting arms and munitions in violation of its treaty obligations—arguing that from a diplomatic standpoint, to mention Germany or any of the Central Powers in this connection was impossible since they were supposed to abide by the treaties that put an end to the World War. ((p.212)) This point is remarkable because it is already apparent that deliberate omission accompanies or substitutes for less seemly blatant lying.

1923 and 1925 began DuPont’s reputation as not only “the merchants of death” on the battlefield but in seemingly ordinary factories at home. DuPont’s Deepwater “dyes” plant on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River was a collaboration between DuPont and General Motors (at that time controlled directly by the Du Ponts). The Chambers Works is where tetraethyl lead was first produced, supposedly an anti-knock compound for internal combustion engines which would increase fuel mileage. Standard Oil and General Motors (run by Pierre du Pont) formed the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation in 1924 and began promotion of leaded gasoline worldwide. Gasoline was becoming a generic product reducing prices and profits for Standard Oil. Mixing gasoline with a very expensive patentable additive was one way to stabilise profitability. Building cars with motors that needed this type of fuel would certainly help. It took until 1996 before the US government banned the use of this enhanced toxin in automotive fuels—more than seventy years to counter this corporate conspiracy. ((A detailed article about the conspiracy surrounding tetraethyl lead, see Jamie Lincoln Kitman, “The Secret History of Lead”, The Nation (20 March 2000).)) The plant was also producing phosgene and chlorine gases and deadly benzol based chemicals. ((p.214)) Workers who died in the plant were even given death certificates for such diseases as typhoid. Since not only the DuPont plant physicians knew how to behave, but also local authorities, Deepwater remained a mystery. As late as 2015 DuPont’s Chambers Works in Deepwater are still being fined for environmental violations. ((Don E. Woods.DuPont Chambers Works in Deepwater fined by EPA for $531K, South Jersey Times, January 8, 2015))

61FCH5gyPnL._SX200_Gerald Colby Tilg wrote a book that came as close to being banned as a book can come in Corporate America. There are other books about the Du Pont family. Colby Tilg wrote his without the consent or cooperation of the family. In fact, the Du Ponts did everything they could to prevent its publication and once published to inhibit its circulation. That, of course, is one reason why Open Road has reissued it as an e-book in the Forbidden Bookshelf series. The original book is even very difficult to find second-hand and then at ridiculous prices. I finally managed to find a copy—not only because I find it easier to work with hard copy books—but also because I wanted to see what was published in the original form. It is a remarkable and rare piece of investigative and historical research but even more it is incredibly well written. Nearly 600 pages describe not only the history of the family, its dynastic pretensions and intensive consanguine marriages that make one think of the Habsburgs, but the reader will find a genealogy of American capitalism. As the oldest and richest capitalist family in the United States, the offspring of Pierre du Pont de Nemours have not only played a crucial role in the organisation of the US economy, they have also shaped the character of US imperialism. Not only have the Du Ponts been the armorers of the nation, they established and controlled—and as a family owned—the world’s largest corporation, General Motors. It was only divested in 1965.

Much is made about corporate lobbying and how it corrupts the legislatures of the world. However, if one tries to argue that any given policy or action by government, whether legislative, judicial or executive, was the direct consequence of a corporate plan and agenda, the response is usually a polite smile or a jeer about “conspiracies” or an indication from some liberal that there are too many competing interests for any one company to exercise grand control over the government. Colby Zilg does not turn Du Ponts into the “power behind the Oval Office” Yet it is not difficult to see why Du Ponts or their innumerable holdings are rarely threatened by oversight and on the contrary always find a way to turn a profit.

The Cold War administrations of both Truman and Eisenhower were filled with former Du Pont lieutenants and allies. Tom Clark, a former Texas lobbyist for the DuPont–owned Ethyl Gas Corporation, charged in the 1930s with unethical practices by a Texas Senate Investigating Committee, became Truman’s Attorney General in May 1945. Dean Acheson, a lawyer for the Du Ponts, became Secretary of State. Lewis M. Douglas, a GM director, was chosen for the important post of ambassador to Great Britain. Louis Johnson, one of the key American Legion figures allegedly involved with Du Ponts in the abortive 1934 coup, was made the second Secretary of Defense in 1949, after the suicide of James Forrestal. Four years later, Charles Wilson, who had earlier won the hearts of Wilmington with his purchase of GM tires from Du Pont-controlled US Rubber, became Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense. Eisenhower’s CIA director was Allen Dulles, a Du Pont confident as far back as the 1920s and president of United Fruit, in which the Du Ponts held a substantial block of stock. ((p.368))

From 1945 until 1960, Du Ponts had direct lines to the Cabinet, especially the War/Defense department where the family traditionally made its best profits. After Du Pont chemist Crawford Greenwaldt was given the task of building what would be uranium enrichment plants for the Manhattan Project, DuPont essentially obtained for free all the atomic know-how needed to corner this lucrative business in new weapons of death and destruction. Today DuPont is still churning out profits in the atomic industry running the Savannah River Site on the border between South Carolina and Georgia. Since US federal law practically immunises the companies operating atomic power plants from civil liability and “national security” interests prevail in other key decisions, DuPont can benefit from risk-free profits, too.

DuPont and Standard Oil also teamed with chemists at Harvard to invent napalm, a standard terror weapon used in the wars against Korea and Vietnam—where it became infamous through some untimely photojournalism. From 1950 – 1952, GM (still in Du Pont hands) grossed 5.5 billion dollars in war contracts. While DuPont had annual profits of 13.3 per cent, GM was earning profits at an annual rate before tax that was six times what it earned in 1929—and that had been a boom year. ((p. 377))

Behind the Nylon Curtain does not just tell the story of unopposed capitalist greed and unrestrained power. Every once in a while fellow capitalists have tried to teach Wilmington that discretion is the better part of valour. In 1955, Du Ponts announced they were making another major investment in GM. In the past, the US government had always found compromises in favour of the Du Ponts and to avoid disturbing this pillar of American capitalism. That included playing down Du Pont’s control of GM. The announcement of the new investment touched off a powder keg. Antitrust law had changed and a new legal consensus about tolerable monopolies had been reached which offended the paleo-conservative Du Ponts. Corporate liberals had agreed that a monopoly should no longer be held by a single family, although it was fine for many groups to exercise financial domination. Du Ponts would have to divest themselves of GM. This set Du Pont family lawyers in action to protect the family holdings, especially from taxes. The sale of the shares threatened to increase the family’s taxes—well over a billion dollars under the tax code at the time. With the help of Clark Clifford ((Clark Clifford (1906-1998) was “political advisor” to US Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter. He was part of the intelligence establishment too, chairing the Intelligence Advisory Board between 1963 and 1968 (and would later be indicted in the BCCI scandal. Bank of Credit and Commerce International was an institution closely related to the international drug and weapons cartels and their Asian operations, protected by the intelligence establishment. See Douglas Valentine, The Strength of the Pack (2010)), when the US was escalating its counter-insurgency war against Vietnam. He also served as Defense Secretary (1968-69), the year of the Tet Offensive.)), who along with serving DuPont also simplified business for ITT—and by the way was an advisor to Presidents—Du Ponts received special tax treatment, while keeping an estimated 17 per cent of GM through a network of trusts and in-laws. ((p. 398-99)) In public they occasionally were dealt a black eye, but in the corridors of power Du Pont wealth usually got its way. By 1965 the divestiture had been completed.

In 1965 the US invaded Vietnam with regular troops, landing Marines at Da Nang. Thus began the DuPonts’ next adventure in profit:

Of the top ten war contractors, three (North American Rockwell, Boeing, General Motors) represented large investments of the Du Pont family. Of the top forty Pentagon contractors, eight (North American Rockwell, Boeing, General Motors, Newport News Shipbuilding, Du Pont, Hercules, and Uniroyal) or one-fifth, were Du Pont interests.

Du Pont Company alone reaped over one billion dollars in war contracts. ((p. 418-19))

It is now forty years since the US stopped flying aircraft and dropping bombs or sending ships with troops to murder peasants in Indochina. But the US has not stopped waging war around the world or building atomic weapons, so it is certain that DuPont is still profiting from the fight against the “enemy of the day”.

Colby Zilg does not confine his story to the nearly two centuries of war profiteering. He also describes using the example of the oldest family, how the daily interlocking of private capital and the State have consistently facilitated and enhanced the exploitative capacity of a very small elite in the United States, not since 2008 or since 1972 or even since 1893 when McClure’s Magazine began publication or even the notorious Grant administration. ((McClure’s Magazine was a US periodical with the reputation for publishing “muckraking” journalism.)) No, from the very beginning the wealth, power and dignity of the ruling elite in the US has been acquired by cheap labour, “free” land, and government favours (whether political, monetary or military). This is not unlike the story Gustavus Myers wrote and first published in 1901. Myers starts with the seldom discussed colonial land tenure and labour systems, including slavery, that survived into the first years of the republic, forming the basis upon which Astors and Vanderbilts followed by Morgan, Carnegie, Mellon, Rockefeller, to name a few of the better-known names, could make the US a paradise for Capital. Myers writes this about Du Pont:

However abbreviated, a competent description of the origin and expansion of the du Pont fortune would entail chapter after chapter. It would have to begin more than a century and a quarter ago when a du Pont established the first small gunpowder plant in Delaware and give the history up to the present E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, leading manufacturer of explosives. ((Gustavus Myers, History of the Great American Fortunes (1937) p. 709))

Du Pont is exceptional because of the dynasty’s longevity, its peculiar family character which kept the company a partnership for almost a century, and its penetration of virtually every sector of the economy and politics. As the leading explosive manufacturer in the US it was wedded to the projects for empire and domestic repression from the very beginning.

Although the Rockefeller, Morgan and Mellon banking families probably control more corporate assets, the Du Ponts have more personal wealth. In fact, no family in America has been richer longer than the Du Ponts. They are the country’s oldest industrial family, producing gunpowder sixty-eight years before Rockefeller was identified with oil, eighty-six years before Carnegie with steel, ninety years before Ford with automobiles.

The Vanderbilts, it is often pointed out, survive as rich people; the Du Ponts survive as a corporation… It should be emphasized, however, that the company has not ruled the family, as is so commonly suggested; rather, the family has ruled the company. Throughout its history, the main concern of the family has always been the family, not the company. In fact, the main concern of Du Pont Company was always the Du Pont family. ((p. 533-23))

A cursory examination of books written about Business in the US and especially about businessmen (and women) in any bookstore will without doubt show how fantastic the leading corporate executives are, what terrific commercial and product innovations are brought to a needy (or greedy) consumer, how, in short, with all its failings there’s no business like business in the US. This is especially nauseating when it comes to the great billionaires. At the beginning of the 20th century the richest men in America—like John D. Rockefeller—were feared. Today Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are presented as a nice guy from around the block to meet for a non-alcoholic beverage and some kind of health-food sandwich, the other could come round for a round of canasta with your grandmother.

Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays began what came to be called public relations. Bernays came to use the term, although he had published a book on the subject called Propaganda in 1928, because it had fewer negative connotations. However, both Lee, who polished Rockefeller’s public image, and Bernays who helped make corporate policies seem more palatable or even popular, were in the business of deception. After Colorado national guardsmen had massacred workers, including families, during a strike at Rockefeller-owned mines in Ludlow, Lee went to work to perform damage control. Lee is credited with managing Rockefeller’s public appearance so that he seemed more like a kindly old gentleman rather than a ruthless thief. Ever since the extremely wealthy and powerful, whether individuals or corporations, spend enormous amounts to manage the way they are seen or the image of what they do. In addition to plain press and media relations work, there are charities and covert action. One of Bernays’ covert PR actions was the famous New York City Easter Day Parade in which he had selected women, dressed in a style associated with middle class suffragettes all light cigarettes and smoke while parading down Fifth Avenue. The prepared press releases spoke of women “lighting up torches of freedom”—the point was for Bernays to help his client sell more cigarettes to the as yet untapped women’s market. ((See the Adam Curtis film Century of the Self, episode one “Happiness Machines” (2002). The film is based on the work of Stuart Ewen, PR! A Social History of Spin (1996)))

The Du Pont dynasty had its own share of public disasters or targets to be influenced. Much of what DuPont produces may not even be noticed as such—e.g. the wide variety of synthetic materials and packaging used today. ((p. 522)) However, the Du Ponts have tended to use vigorous political power for the most part in immediate areas of economic interest. To protect their wealth they have created as many as thirty or more tax-exempt foundations. In contrast to some of the other super-rich families, the Du Ponts concentrate their tax-free foundations in the field of preserving the memorabilia of their ancestors and the elegant estates they modelled after pre-revolutionary French ostentation. Longwood palace has gardens that rival those of Versailles and are preserved by the Nemours Foundation. There is a “public” library at the original gunpowder mills with the family archives. However, the Eleutherian Mills – Hagley Foundation treats everything after 1933 as if it were “classified”. When Du Pont foundations award grants there are no strings, per se—but because these are mainly disbursed as “matching grants” control is always implied. ((p. 530)) Of course, there are endowed chairs at universities and prizes; e.g., for journalism, too. ((The Alfred I. Du Pont – Columbia University Journalism Award is presented to broadcast journalism along with the Peabody award for electronic journalism, whereas the Pulitzer is awarded for print journalism. Alfred’s widow, Jesse Ball du Pont, established it in 1942. All these prizes are administered by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, founded by Joseph Pulitzer in 1912.))

DuPont became a household word for products like nylon and Teflon, today a metaphor for anyone to whom nothing sticks; i.e., criticism, criminal charges, etc. The company has managed to stay in business for over two centuries. The family has ruled Delaware without serious interruption for just as long. Its palaces have been subsidised by taxes unassessed or unpaid, built with extortionate profits from government contracts and the cheapest possible labour. Princes of the realm have occasionally worked in government service, only rarely held public office outside the “Duchy” itself. ((Henry A. du Pont (1838 – 1926) was US Senator from the Duchy from 1906 to 1917; T. Coleman du Pont served in the US Senate from 1921 to 1922 and 1925 to 1928. Pierre S. du Pont IV served as Delaware congressman (1971-1977) and governor (1977-1985).)) Hence they do not appear in power and yet it is safe to assume that they hold power even today.

Today’s great magnates shun ornament and regalia, although Bill Gates has stooped to accept honorary knighthood in the Order of the British Empire. Wealth is celebrated with almost plebeian modesty. Individual American fortunes like those of Buffet, Gates, Soros, are lauded in books and magazine articles detailing entrepreneurship rather than bloodline. Their limousines are parked outside venues like the World Economic Forum in Davos or the Munich Security Conference. Warren Buffet still draws his fans to Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meetings where the “sage of Omaha” (as opposed to the “nihilist of Nebraska”) basks in modest reputation for “value investing”. Unlike his one-time rival Steve Jobs, Bill Gates cannot animate the revival tent. In short, the wealthy and powerful today—at least in the United States—rarely hold public office. They deny holding power in public, preferring to present themselves as bearers of business acumen, commercial wisdom and financial virtue. These are purportedly qualities which make them at least potentially equal to the men and women beneath them. After all the US is the “land of opportunity” for everyone, isn’t it?

The Du Ponts are proof that it isn’t. While the Great, like Gates and Buffet, try to demonstrate that they are also the Good, Du Pont wealth stands for itself.

Behind the Nylon Curtain—the allusion to the Cold War expression might be unfamiliar to readers born after 1989—is a unique royal biography of capitalism in which pageantry and propaganda are shown for what they are. It is a story of the corporate support for radical right wing politics—as a matter of course—and the conscious funding and deployment of organised terror, like the Ku Klux Klan in Alfred du Pont’s Florida empire and the Black Legion in GM territory (Michigan). It is a sober, detailed study of dynastic power and how it has been exercised for the entire history of the United States! Colby Zilg produced a genealogy of immorality that transcends personalities and can only be understood by staring the system in the face. This book demands that the evils of capitalism be recognised in the actions of real people who can be named and whose actions can—if one pays attention—be seen and not just imagined—once one transcends the pageantry of Business.

It is a kind of “trooping of the colours” without the fancy dress. The criminal dynasty is assembled on parade. And like at the British monarch’s birthday celebration—all can see Du Pont’s weaponry and the soldiers in its employ, protecting the plunder. However, there are no uniforms and marching bands to distract the reader from the smell of powder, gas, and napalm or the cancerous contamination that accompany its grandeur. From Deepwater, NJ to Miami, from the Savannah River to the Nevada desert, from the gas chambers in Poland to the dioxin drenched valleys of Vietnam, DuPont and the Du Pont family have embodied American capitalism in all its glory. Gerald Colby Zilg’s chronicle forces the reader to see the gore at the heart of that glory.

Dupont, Behind the Nylon Curtain was revised and reissued in 1984. It has just been reissued in 2014 by Open Roads (Forbidden Bookshelf). The e-book is based on the 1984 edition.

Dr T.P. Wilkinson writes, teaches History and English, directs theatre and coaches cricket between the cradles of Heine and Saramago. He is also the author of Church Clothes, Land, Mission and the End of Apartheid in South Africa. Read other articles by T.P..