Since this is my department’s first posting in this newsletter, I thought it would be appropriate to start at the beginning with the collection that started the museum. The DuPont Museum Collection was founded in 1922 by Charles Copeland, secretary of the DuPont Company who wrote: “I am beginning a Company Museum to preserve the interesting and instructive memorials of the DuPont Company.” In preparation for Hagley’s eventual opening in 1957, DuPont presented these items, numbering around 1500, to the museum in 1954 to establish its collections.
Overall the collection is a rich sampling of DuPont manufactured consumer products. The nineteenth century is represented by DuPont’s explosives-related products such as this Superfine gunpowder can from 1860 to 1880. It also includes, wooden and metal kegs, blasting machines, dynamite-related tools, manufacturing equipment and more.
A large significant advertising artwork collection, made up of oil and watercolor paintings that depict a variety of DuPont consumer products, is also included. Most focus on gunpowder-related topics such as this oil painting titled “Five Generations, 1912-1917” by Stanley Arthurs which was used for the cover of the January 1918 DuPont Magazine. The images on these paintings were also used for prints, calendars and postcards.
Early twentieth-century products include DuPont’s shifting focus towards manufacturing synthetic materials with examples of rayon, cellophane, fabricoid (artificial leather), and pyralin (celluloid). The last part of the collection focuses on the time period from 1930 to 1954 when DuPont was creating entirely new materials in the lab such as neoprene (artificial rubber), nylon, Orlon and Dacron. A large part of the collection focuses on the development of nylon stockings and consists of research stockings taken directly from scientist labs with their notes. All with the goal of producing commercially viable products such as this pair of stockings from 1939. You can see nylon from this collection currently on display in the exhibit “Fashion Meets Science: Introducing Nylon” at Hagley’s Visitors Center.
Debra Hughes is the Museum Curator of Collections and Exhibits at Hagley.