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Du Pont Hagley Museum – The Mills

Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours was an official in the French Government at the time of the French Revolution.  In order to escape the guillotine, du Pont quickly relocated his family to America in 1802.  His second son EleuthereIrenee du Pont started manufacturing gunpowderin Delaware, establishing a du Pont dynasty that dominated America’s chemical business up to the present day.

Since the United States entered a number of wars in the 1800’s, du Pont gunpowder was in demand and they supplied as much as 60% of the US needs in those years.  This spurred growth of the gunpowder mills, and du Pont eventually acquired the adjacent property called Hagley (thought to be a reference to the Hagley estate south of Birmingham England).

Map of Eleutherian Mills

Map of Eleutherian Mills

As you proceed from the visitor center toward the powder yard, you walk along the mill race.  Located above the Brandywine River and the mills on its banks, water from the race fell about 17 feet to power the mills.

Fall provided beautiful colors on the now-picturesque Brandywine River, but this area was filled with activity and noise when this full operation.

The Mill Race

The Mill Race

The first mills on the Brandywine River are named the Birkenhead Mills.  This appears to be named for aportand formershipbuildingcentreinNWEngland locatedinWirralunitaryauthority,Merseyside.  This is the only water wheel powered mill on the property.

The Birkenhead Mills

The Birkenhead Mills

This is a view of the central axel and gearing of the water wheel.

Water Wheel Axel

Water Wheel Axel

The other mills were all powered by submerged impellers driven by water falling from the mill race.  These impellers provided much more power than a water wheel.

Water falling through the pipe drives an impellor which in turn rotates the gear-and-shaft system to power the adjacent powder mills

Water falling through the pipe drives an impellor which in turn rotates the gear-and-shaft system to power the adjacent powder mills

The second gear in the above photo was to allow an auxiliary steam engine to power the mills whenever there was a drought and the river was low.

Notice there is a high independent wall at the back of the building.  This was a blast protection wall, intended to deflect any explosion away from the rest of the facility and out toward the hillside on the opposite shore of the Brandywine River.  The mills also had only 3 sides of stone, with the open fourth side facing the river.  Again this was in case of an explosion, the blast was directed away from the main facility by the three stone walls.

Accidental explosions ranged from small to enormous and occurred frequently.  In fact, the facility averaged 10-15 explosions a year over a twenty year period!  One large explosion damaged about half the property, including the mansion on the top of the hill, over half a mile away.

In the power plant, a separate building near the downstream end of the mills, another steam engine powered other machinery.  Some of this power was transmitted by gear-and-shaft systems quite a distance from the power plant.

Gear-and-Shaft system transmits power between buildings

Gear-and-Shaft system transmits power between buildings

A machine shop adjacent the mill race fabricated nearly anything metal that was needed.  Steam powered drills, mills, lathes and other tools created gears, impeller blades and a large variety of other items.A small gear might take a week or more to produce.  The highest paid workers were the machinists in the machine shop, who earned $0.15 per hour, which was considered a high wage in those times.

The Machine Shop and Mill Race

The Machine Shop and Mill Race

References:

Hagley Museum

Hagley Museum and Library  (surprisingly, this Wikipedia site has more historic information than the Hagley site!)

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Mark Bobb

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