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Nylon and Bombs

DuPont and the March of Modern America

Pap A. Ndiaye translated by Elborg Forster

Publication Year: 2006

What do nylon stockings and atomic bombs have in common? DuPont. The chemical firm of DuPont de Nemours pioneered the development of both nylon and plutonium, playing an important role in the rise of mass consumption and the emergence of the notorious “military-industrial complex.” In this fascinating account of the lives and careers of Du Pont’s chemical engineers, Pap A. Ndiaye deftly illustrates the contribution of industry to the genesis of a dominant post–World War II “American model” connecting prosperity with security. The consumer and military dimensions of twentieth-century American history are often studied separately. Ndiaye reunites them by examining Du Pont's development of nylon, which symbolized a new way of life, and plutonium, which was synonymous with annihilation. Reflecting on the experiences and contributions of the company's engineers and physicists, Ndiaye traces Du Pont's transformation into one of the corporate models of American success.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Studies in Industry and Society


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. v

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Translator’s Note

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p. vii

This book has—with the author’s approval—undergone some changes in translation. Most important, a lengthy section of the original chapter 1, entitled “How to Write a History of the Chemical Industry,” is incorporated into the “Essay on Sources and...

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pp. 1-4

In 1952, the editor and social historian Frederick Lewis Allen hailed the advent of a “responsible capitalism,” which, jointly structured by government and big business, would be capable of meeting the challenges of a new era. Since the beginning of the century, he continued, big business...

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1. DuPont and the Rise of Chemical Engineering

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pp. 5-62

Unlike the electrical industry, the American chemical industry did not appear out of nowhere at the end of the nineteenth century. In the 1840s, a small chemical industry began to develop in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, in the prosperous region that stretches from New York to Philadelphia...

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2. From Ammonia to Nylon: Technologies and Careers

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pp. 63-105

By the 1920s, chemical engineers may have been in a favorable position at DuPont, but this did not mean that they were sure to make a career there. A large company is a heterogeneous entity, made up of diverse and sometimes competing professional groups...

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3. Culture and Politics at DuPont before World War II

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pp. 106-140

At the end of the 1930s, DuPont no longer had much in common with what it had been at the beginning of the century, when the du Pont cousins took over. This event had brought about a technical and organizational mutation that changed the company from...

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4. The Forgotten Engineers of the Bomb

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pp. 141-178

In early August 1945, the blinding flashes that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki instantly propelled the Manhattan Project from the deepest secrecy to the top of the news. One week after the atomic explosions, the portrait of the charismatic J. Robert Oppenheimer...

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5. The Heyday and Decline of Chemical Engineering

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pp. 179-228

Immediately following World War II, the United States, which had emerged from the conflict stronger than ever, had no rival on the world stage. The American economy had proven its efficiency by responding to the war effort of the country, the...

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pp. 229-233

In the space of a half-century, DuPont’s chemical engineers as a professional group achieved an enviable position. Associating the invention and assertion of a new scientific field with the diversification of this company, they also benefited from the parallel rise of the consumer...


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pp. 235-265

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Essay on Sources and Historiography

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pp. 267-281

The main archival sources used in this book are to be found in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and at College Park, Maryland, and especially at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware (the birthplace of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company), which also holds the public archives...


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pp. 283-289

E-ISBN-13: 9781421403342
E-ISBN-10: 142140334X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801884443
Print-ISBN-10: 0801884446

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 8 halftones, 11 line drawings
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Studies in Industry and Society
Series Editor Byline: Philip B. Scranton, Series Editor, Published with the assistance of the Hagley Museum and Library See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 608111346
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Nylon and Bombs

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Military-industrial complex -- United States -- History.
  • Research, Industrial -- United States -- History.
  • Chemical industry -- United States -- History.
  • E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company -- History.
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