Boom Times

The U.S. Civil War created an insatiable appetite for explosives, and companies both new and established rushed to meet the seemingly endless demand. As the war drew to a close, the supply of explosives soon far exceeded demand, and the industry plunged into turmoil. DuPont, the U.S. pioneer in explosives, resolved to bring order back to the industry by absorbing and eliminating as much of its competition as possible. As a result DuPont became the largest explosives monopoly in the United States.

By the turn of the 20th century DuPont and its subsidiaries controlled nearly two-thirds of the entire explosives market. Trust-busting crusaders of the time, who had made their names dismantling industrial monopolies in the railroad, steel, and oil industries, turned their attention to DuPont. In 1907 the Department of Justice filed a criminal antitrust suit against the company. The suit went to trial the next year, and after three years of arguments the U.S. Circuit Court for the Third District ruled that DuPont was in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. DuPont was told to prepare a plan for its own dissolution.The company negotiated a settlement with the government, agreeing to divide its explosives industries between itself and the newly formed Atlas Powder and Hercules Powder companies.

With assets handed down from its parent, Hercules quickly established itself as one of the primary explosives manufacturers in the nation, just in time for a new—and global—conflict.World War I led to profits and growth, but Hercules quickly realized it could not depend on wartime contracts for its survival. After the war Hercules turned itself into a chemical producer, one whose products eventually spanned specialty chemicals, petrochemicals, engineered polymers, and even aerospace technologies. But a link to its explosive past remained; in the 1950s Hercules began building rockets for the military and in the 1990s built rockets for the civilian satellite market. Herculescontinued to operate until 2008, when it was acquired by Ashland.


Lawyer’s Dinner (1912)

In 1912 DuPont lawyers, after five years of representing DuPont in its antitrust case and negotiating the creation of Hercules and Atlas, assembled for a dinner. Although DuPont had been forced to split itself, Hercules, the new company, was staffed primarily by former DuPont executives, and the connection between it and its parent company remained largely intact.



Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek demigod Heracles, a son of Zeus. The name was first used by the California Powder Works (CPW) to market a popular brand of explosive powder to miners during the California Gold Rush (1848–1855).At the time, CPW’s biggest rival was Giant Powder Company, so CPW chose the name Hercules because of the demigod’s famous ability to slay giants. In 1903 DuPont acquired CPW and kept the name Hercules to denote a specific brand of powder until 1912.



Teamster (circa 1915–1935)

Hercules began as an explosives company supplying gun owners, the military, and the mining, construction, quarrying, and agriculture industries. Producing and transporting explosives was a risky business; so Hercules, like other explosives companies, operated many small plants close to its customers rather than a few large plants close to its sources of raw materials, which included the sulfuric acid, nitric acid, and wood pulp used to produce nitroglycerin.The teamster in this picture is transporting Hercules explosives from its production facility in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, to the vast anthracite coal fields of the surrounding area.


Advertisement: “Farming with the Help of Dynamite” (1915)

The market for blasting explosives was divided into three main segments: mining and quarrying, construction, and agriculture. Although by far the smallest segment, agriculture was a critical component of the business; farmers purchased nearly 20 million pounds of dynamite annually to dig ditches, drain swamps, and remove boulders and stumps, and for sub-soiling, or deep tilling, fields.The advertisement boasts that “the crop yield from a sub-soiled field will more than double that from the same field before sub-soiling.”