ASME-Landmark:Brandywine River Powder Mills


Founded by Eleuthère Irénéé du Pont (1771-1834), the Brandywine River Mills became the largest maker of explosive black powder in the United States. That success resulted directly from the firm's pioneering use of gunpowder processing machinery driven by water wheels and water turbines. Divided into separate buildings to promote safety, its rolling, graining, and glazing mills produced black powder in a range of grades for military, sporting, hunting, construction, mining, and other applications.

Horse-drawn narrow-gage railways provided in-process transport between facilities. In later years, steam engines drove conveyor belts that moved materials along the production lines. The mechanical operations—rotating wheels, turbines, vessels and vats, distillation and combustion processes, etc.—are examples of fledgling mechanical engineering principles. Du Pont instituted management practices that established safety practices and ensured high-quality production. The largest powder mills of the time, these mills were unique in that they refined the raw material and made everything they used, making gunpowder to any specification.

Brandywine River Powder Mills produced its first gunpowder in 1803. Started as a large-scale, sophisticated manufactory, Brandywine maintained operations for 119 years. The Brandywine River Powder Mills performed shell loading and some smokeless nitrations during World War I. They were the most sophisticated producers of black power until their close in 1921, when that technology became obsolete.

The Eleutherian Mills–Hagley Foundation was formed in the 1950s, with the Hagley Museum and Library formed in 1957. Aside from one operating powder mill, the Hagley Museum owns the only virtually complete set of process equipment in North America. See ASME website for more information