The defining event in the life of Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954), the founder of Longwood Gardens, was the sudden death of his father in a plant explosion when Pierre was only 14. (See the posting Lammot du Pont and the Terrible Explosion, September 10, 2013.) He was the oldest son of nine brothers and sisters, and even at that young age, he stepped up to care for them and his mother for the rest of their lives. Reportedly, they even called him “Dad” from then on, although considering their French origins, the actual word could have been “Papa.” (My sister would never have called me “Dad” in any language, under any circumstances.) Pierre enjoyed the title, and even close business associates called him “Dad.”
Stepping up in responsibility at a young age is a surprisingly common background for successful men in all fields. They rose to the challenge in their early teenage years when something happened to remove their father, and this influenced the rest of their lives. Anecdotal evidence suggests a strong correlation between the loss and later success. Was their sense of responsibility already lying latent in them, or did it develop out of necessity? Are girls affected in the same way?
Pierre was always noted for his sense of responsibility. He did not have a romantic relationship with any woman before his mother died when he was 45 years old. He then suddenly married his cousin, Alice Belin, two years younger, who he knew all of his life. (The du Pont and Belin families had been close and frequently intermarried for generations. Pierre’s mother was Mary Belin. Alice was the daughter of Mary Belin’s brother.)
Neither wanted children from the marriage. Pierre had already raised his brothers and sisters. Bearing children at Alice’s age would have been too dangerous. However, they both enjoyed children, and many stories describe nieces and nephews playing at Longwood Gardens where they obviously felt welcome.
Alice was very accomplished (she graduated from Bryn Mawr) and was the perfect wife for him, but by then in her 40s, she must have expected to forever remain single. She reminds many people of Eleanor Roosevelt. Her courtship by Pierre was very brief, if it existed at all. Letters between Pierre’s sisters expressed great surprise at the announcement, although, in retrospect, the real surprise is their surprise. It was probably more of a business proposal than a romantic one. Pierre’s contacts with eligible women were limited, and once married, they maintained separate bedrooms, bathrooms, and dressing rooms at Longwood.
(When traveling to the big cities with his young protege, John Raskob, who he hired right out of high school, Pierre would spend his evenings at their hotel room while Raskob enjoyed nightclubbing with chorus girls. Theirs was a close father-son relationship. Raskob went on to build the Empire State Building. He married and had 13 children. He was active in Democrat politics and Catholic charities. The current private school, Archmere Academy, is the site of his former mansion, Archmere, on the Delaware River in the State of Delaware. A central courtyard fountain still has the names of his children.)
Alice died ten years before Pierre, and I am trying to learn more about that time. How did she die? Was it sudden or prolonged? How did it affect Pierre? They had been married for almost 30 years and were companions for a lifetime. Was he crushed by it, or did he bury himself in business projects? He was 73 at the time of her death, but never remarried. Who were his friends, and how did he spend his time?
Scranton is associated with the Belin family. It was the site of DuPont’s first powder mill away from the original facility on the Brandywine River. Mining was an important market for gunpowder, and Scranton, the thriving capital of the coal industry, was where the mines were. Henry Belin, Jr., was the Superintendent of that facility and brother of Pierre’s mother.
Here is a transcript of their wedding announcement as published in The New York Times, October 7, 1915:
P.S. DU PONT WEDS COUSIN
Wealthy Powder Manufacturer Marries Miss Alice Belin
The marriage of Miss Alice Belin, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Belin, Jr., of Scranton, Penn., and Pierre Samuel du Pont of Wilmington, Del., took place yesterday afternoon at the home of the bride’s brother, Ferdinand Lammot Belin, 400 Park Avenue, which Mr. Belin has just leased for the Winter.
The ceremony was performed in New York, owing to a law existing in Pennsylvania which prohibits the wedding of cousins. Mr. du Pont and his bride are first cousins. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. Dr. Joseph Odell, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church at Scranton.
The bride wore a gown of silver lace draped over white satin, with a tulle veil, and carried bride roses. Her father gave her in marriage.
Her only attendants were her little nephew, Welles Belin, son of Mr. and Mrs. F. L. Belin, and Mr. du Pont’s young niece, Wilhelmina du Pont, daughter of Mrs. W. K. du Pont of Wilmington. H. Rodney Sharpe, also of Wilmington, a brother-in-law of the bridegroom, and associated with him in business, was best man.
After the ceremony, a dinner was served, the couple leaving later on their honeymoon, which they will spend at Longwood, Mr. du Pont’s estate situated ten miles from Wilmington.
Mr. du Pont, who is one of the wealthiest men in the United States, is a son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Lammot du Pont. He is President of the du Pont de Nemours Powder Company. F. Lammot Belin, the bride’s brother, is President of the Aetna Explosives Company, both industries furnishing supplies to the warring nations in Europe. The two families are closely intermarried and their combined wealth is said to be enormous.
Last week several large entertainments were given in Scranton for the couple.