Aspire | Action | Acquire
Aspire | Action | Acquire

Continuing Education

Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771-1834) arrived in America on 24 June 1800. The son of French economist and nobleman granted letters patent by King Louis XVI, Éleuthère trained in chemistry at the Collége Royal in Paris before emigrating. His sons attended military colleges and his grandchildren attended the University of Pennsylvania. If any family in America could claim an educated lineage connected to wealth it would be the du Pont family[1].

The great-grandchildren of Éleuthère’s, cousins Coleman Pierre S., Alfred I, and T. Coleman, all attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T) and reshaped the owner managed corporate organisation. The late historian Alfred Chandler, credits Pierre S. du Pont for going one step further and professionalising management;[2] specifically, the appointment of Alfred Sloan to head General Motors and whose name adorns M.I.T.’s business school. For a period, up until after Pierre S.’s death, the du Ponts controlled General Motors.

During the Gilded Age, the du Ponts acted primarily as ‘producers’ working and living alongside the Brandywine, Delaware. Using categorizations in this book, Pierre S. was the ‘principal’ and bought out his cousins; Alfred the ‘producer’ managed powder production, and; T. Coleman, always sizing up external entrepreneurial opportunities, was a ‘planner’. The appointment of Alfred Sloan, a producer, to head G.M., separated the roles of ownership and professional educated day-to-day corporate management, which is common to today’s large corporations.

The third-generation Gilded Age banker, J. P. Morgan is another to have benefited from an education; at the University of Göttingen which jointly founded by the George II, King of Great Britain. Coincidentally, Columbia University, formerly King’s College, was given its royal charter by George II. Of families to achieve super wealth before the Gilded Age, John Jacob Astor’s eldest son, William Backhouse, attended both Columbia University and the University of Göttingen as well as the University of Heidelberg.

By contrast, the eldest son of Cornelius Vanderbilt, William Henry, who inherited the bulk of his father’s empire, also went to Columbia.Of his sons, Frederick went to Yale University and served on the board of rail companies for six decades, including the Central, that his grandfather had masterfully conquered a century and more earlier. Frederick Vanderbilt predates the du Ponts as an educated manager of a large family-controlled corporation. Like Pierre S. du Pont, Frederick died without a direct and educated lineage connected to wealth.

In the book Old Money, Nelson Aldrich Jr., states that America’s inherited wealth has its own curriculum that culminates at Harvard or other Ivy League university. Published in the late 1980s, Aldrich acknowledged that the educational legacy of inherited wealth was threatened on three fronts. First, limits on legacy alumni enrolments to 20 percent favoring children of “talent.” Second, the recruitment of teachers whose interests are outside of those of the rich. Three, the favored admission of students whose academic interests match their teachers.[3] To this list, the absence of a descendant is added earlier.

Aldrich’s observations have academic foundations. As a fourth-generation legatee, Aldrich graduated from Harvard and taught English at school, college, and university levels as well as a writer and editor for various well-known magazines. The academic foundations of Aldrich’s observations were also identified near to half-a-century earlier by economist Joseph Schumpeter. He wrote of “the extent to which the bourgeoise, besides educating its own enemies, allows itself in turn to be educated by them.”[4]


[1] John D. Gates, The du Pont Family. (New York: Doubleday, 1979).

[2] Alfred D. Chandler Jr., and Stephen Salsbury, Pierre S du Pont and the Making of the Corporation (New York: Harper & Row, 1971).

[3] Nelson W. Aldrich, Old Money: The Mythology of America’s Upper Class (New York: Distributed by Random House, 1988), 39-40.

[4] Joseph Schumpeter, Can Capitalism Survive? (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Thought, 2009), 190.