The News-Journal Company has a board of directors of ten men. Four of them are working executives of the paper, including, until recently, Creed Black. They also include the papers’ president and editor, Charles L. Reese Jr., son of the Du Pont chemist who led the company’s research to international stature in World War I. There are two “outside men,” that is, non-Du Pont. They are Ralph K. Gottshall, president of Atlas Chemicals, once a Du Pont firm, spun off after antitrust action but still in friendly symbiosis with its parent. The other is J. J. B. Fulenwider, vice president of Hercules Powder, another former Du Pont firm separated by antitrust order, with 300,000 of its shares now owned by Christiana. A seventh member of the board is Robert H. Richards Jr., counsel for the paper, a director of the Du Pont bank, the Wilmington Trust, until recently Republican National Committeeman from Delaware, and son of the legal genius who created Delaware’s friendly corporation laws and guided the formation of Christiana.

The three ownership directors are Henry Silliman, son-in-law of Irénée du Pont; Robert R. M. Carpenter Jr., known as “Bobby,” nephew of the president of Christiana, himself on the board of Christiana and owner of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team; and Henry B. du Pont, president and patriarch of Christiana and until recently vice president of ExComm. H. B. du Pont is the ruling man in the ownership, with Carpenter increasingly influential.

The Du Ponts and the press have had a long joint history. The family first appeared in the Delaware press on January 1, 1806, when one of the papers in town (Wilmington then had a population of 3,500 and two newspapers; it now has a population of 100,000 and two newspapers) carried a grocery store ad for smoked herring, Old Peach Brandy and “Dupont & Co’s. gunpowder.” Since that time their printed presence has been more dramatic. Like any normal family, they have no love for adverse publicity, but their wealth and power have given them more than their share of it. It is a huge family, with about 1,600 contemporary members, 250 of them important in the empire and a handful of them potent leaders. It is a large but close-knit group.

For the last seventy-five years the news has often been intolerable for the Du Ponts, since their prominence made their most embarrassing private moments terribly public. These moments were plentiful, with family scandals and fights, suicides, bordello shootings, spectacular intra-family marriages and divorces (HE MARRIED A BARMAID, a Chicago Daily News headline said of a Du Pont on November 12, 1889) and senatorial investigations of the “munitions lobby” in the 1930’s. All of this gave the family good reason to fear the press.

Alfred I. du Pont saved the company for the family, and helped plunge it into the newspaper business. After most of the clan had voted to sell out to their closest competitor, Alfred formed a troika of leadership in 1902 with his cousins, T. Coleman du Pont and Pierre S. du Pont (with the help of Pierre’s ingenious assistant, John Jacob Raskob). The three cousins took over the $24,000,000 enterprise with a total cash outlay of $2,100—the incorporation fees.

The newspaper appendix to the Du Pont anatomy was acquired after the family declared war on Alfred, not so much because of his spectacular divorce and remarriage to his divorced cousin but because when he did this he inserted a flamboyant announcement of it in the Wilmington Morning News. When he got back from his honeymoon, Coleman told him, “Al, now you’ve done it,” and said he should get out of the company. Alfred refused and the fight was on, Alfred on one side with about one-fifth of the clan, and Coleman and Pierre on the other, with the bulk of the family. The feud involved politics; Coleman had ambitions to be a senator or even President. Alfred started a new bank and deliberately made his building two stories higher than the 12-story Du Pont Building one block away.

Henry A. du Pont, on Coleman’s side, bought the Wilmington Evening Journal. In response, Alfred bought the Wilmington Morning News and six downstate papers and there followed a journalistic firefight that shredded state politics, the company, and the family. When Coleman’s political drive collapsed, Alfred ran a headline in his paper:


The explosive figure of speech was considered unforgiveable bad taste in a family that lived (and sometimes died) by gunpowder.

When Alfred got his second divorce in 1906, nothing appeared in any Wilmington paper, but there was a full account in the Philadelphia papers, an enduring pattern that continues to this day on sensitive Du Pont family or Du Pont Company news.

Ben Bagdikian was an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, and later dean of the University of California, Berkeley's journalism school. He wrote about the Washington press regularly for CJR in the 1960s and '70s.