Kevlar R&D: An Oral History

The oral histories presented here document the research and development processes that transformed Kevlar from a novel polymer in the laboratory to a life-changing product in the marketplace. Through many surprising twists and turns, the people profiled here managed to make Kevlar serve the complicated and occasionally contradictory interests of the DuPont company, scientific inquiry, the marketplace, and the general public. Their stories are a rich study in the business and technology of innovation.

Interviews and summaries by John Kenly Smith, PhD. Video production by Mike Oates and 302 Stories, Inc. Special thanks to the 1916 Foundation, the friends and family of Mary Laird Silvia, and individual donors for support of this project.

For information on the extensive archival materials related to Kevlar in the Hagley Museum & Library collections, please refer to the online catalog at hagley.org/library.

Irénée du Pont Jr.

Irenee du Pont, Jr.’s father was the younger brother of Pierre S. du Pont, the architect of the modern Du Pont Company. After his parents had eight daughters between 1900 and 1915, Irenee, Jr. was born in 1920. He attended Dartmouth College studying chemistry for two years before transferring to MIT to study mechanical engineering, graduating in 1943. For the remainder of the war he was test engineer working with aircraft engines.

After the war he joined the DuPont Company where for the next two decades he held a variety of jobs. In 1967 he joined the company’s ruling executive committee. During his tenure on the committee, DuPont had to deal with increasing competition, social unrest in Wilmington, equal opportunity legislation, and environmental regulation. Among other anecdotes, Irenee describes how his father along with his brothers Lammot and Pierre set off large fireworks displays at Fourth of July celebrations in the 1920s. Irenee also commented that he believes that Pierre continued to play an important role in the affairs of the company until his death in 1954.