Hercules Powder Company was one of the companies created from the break-up of the E.I. du Pont de Nemours "powder trust" in 1911 as ruled by a U.S. Supreme Court decision. Based in Wilmington, Delaware, gunpowder production served as Hercules' main focus at its founding. By the 1920s, the company had diversified and began producing synthetic materials from the by-products of their explosives business, primarily pine resins from wood pulp.
Among the many films in the Cinecraft collection at Hagley, we have uncovered five projects they produced for Hercules. Cinecraft, an industrial film producer based in Cleveland, Ohio, was founded just a few years before their first collaboration with Hercules in 1939.
How did a company in Cleveland end up making films for a Delaware business? We don't know for sure, but Fuller Smith and Ross, a Cleveland-based advertising agency, had Hercules among its list of clients. Fuller Smith and Ross served as a primary source of business for Cinecraft up until the 1950s. The ad agency brought projects to Cinecraft in their early years, including their first film in 1939. Cinecraft and Hercules' connection with Fuller Smith and Ross seems the most logical answer for how the Cleveland and Wilmington companies connected.
The films Cinecraft produced for Hercules were made over six years, starting with their first film in 1941 and the last in 1946. The films focus on the non-explosives side of their operation. In 1940, an explosion at a Hercules munitions plant in New Jersey killed fifty-one people. De-emphasizing their munitions business in the series of public relations films produced with Cinecraft seems a logical motivation in the wake of the tragedy that put Hercules' name front and center in newspapers across the country.
Below is a summary and links to the Hercules films in the Cinecraft collection at Hagley:
Better Roads Ahead (1941): A motion picture about Vinsol, a cement additive developed by the Hercules. The film depicts the advantages of mixing "Vinsol," a black form of resin made from longleaf pines, with concrete. Hagley had footage and a script from the film, but we have yet to find a finished print. Footage and script from Better Roads Ahead
Our Part of the Job (1942): The 18-minute color film depicts two house painters using Hercules steam-distilled wood turpentine. They visit a paint store and discuss the product with the store owner. They then watch a movie, "It's Guaranteed: The Story of Hercules Pure Spirits of Turpentine" that shows how turpentine production at Hercules. Watch Our Part of the Job
Hercules Land (1943) is a film about the history, people, and various products produced by the Hercules Company. The featured products are lacquer, paper and textile coatings, explosives, insecticides, and disinfectants. Also featured in the film are products used in papermaking, highway construction, foundries, laundries, and house painting. Watch Hercules Land
Careers in Cellulose (1944): The story of cellulose is explained through a series of segments at the company's production and research facilities in Virginia, New Jersey, and Delaware. The film emphasizes the commercial uses of cellulose, especially its part in providing war materials. Watch Careers in Cellulose
Linter Logic (1946): The film depicts a fictional family that runs a cottonseed mill and how they expand their business to supply linters, a by-product of milled cotton, for the growing market of products created with cellulose. Watch Linter Logic
Many thanks to Jim Culley for sharing his research for this article