Phily Trip Day 12 – Winterthur – du Pont Estate

June 12, 2008

Since the trip today was to Delaware, here’s a trivia question: Why is Delaware nicknamed the Constitution State? (answer at the end)

It was a beautiful day in the Wilmington, Delaware area where we traveled to tour the du Pont Estate of Winterthur (pronounced: Winter-tour). The du Pont mansion is now a museum of 19th century material culture. The du Pont fortune originated with gunpowder. The following paragraph is a brief summary.

DuPont was founded in 1802 by Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, using capital raised in France and gunpowder machinery imported from France. The company was started at the Eleutherian Mills, on the Brandywine Creek, near Wilmington, Delaware, USA two years after he and his family left France to escape the French Revolution. It began as a manufacturer of gunpowder, as du Pont had noticed that the industry in North America was lagging behind Europe and saw a market for it. The company grew quickly, and by the mid nineteenth century had become the largest supplier of gunpowder to the United States military, supplying as much as half of the powder used by the Union Army during the American Civil War. The Eleutherian Mills site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and is now a museum covering this history that may be visited today. (

Winterthur was most recently the home of Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969). The mansion has over 170 rooms and the gardens cover about 60 acres.

We went on guided tours inside the mansion. These are a few pictures of the antiques on display. Each room in the mansion is designed as it was originally. This picture is a set of china.

Canopy beds were a common style and quite functional rather than simply decorative. Obviously, the curtains could be pulled around the bedposts for privacy, but also to keep mosquitoes away from the sleepers. The purpose of the canopy was to catch the bugs that often fell from the ceiling.


These dishes once belonged to George and Martha Washington.



This is an ice chest. It’s certainly fancier than the styrofoam one I have. 🙂


This is a wall mural.

This is a formal dining room.


Click on this link for a short history of Winterthur. If you clicked and read the information, you know that there is an educational component to the estate called “The Touch-It Room”. We spent time there experiencing a simulated general store and playing with toys of years gone by.

Before we toured the gardens by tram, then the mansion,  we attended a lecture about the consumer revolution and market revolution presented by Cathy Matson. She described the components of a consumer revolution beginning with the history in North America. It came about in the 18th century (roughly 1740s and 1750s) with a noticable spike in production and consumption of goods in homes and shops. Economic exchange doubled and quickly quadrupled from England to America.

Ms. Matson showed an entertaining and informative power point of historic Philadelphia. Many of the pictures were of places I’ve visited during this excursion and I liked seeing the original buildings or streets as they were in the 1700s in comparison to what they look like now. Ms. Matson mentioned that fairly well-to-do people lived in Elfreth’s Alley. I found that interesting since I’d just visited the alley.

The consumer revolution transformed the way people did work. It impacted the hours they worked by shortening them, it influenced the goods they used, and their relationship swith masters or owners. The plow came along in 1735 and changed farming forever. Sawmills grew fast. Stones became standard for grinding in grist mills. A sign of the consumer revolution was that people could purchase already made goods because money was freer and they didn’t have to make so many of their necessities. An example was candles. It was during this time that “non-nutritive” stimulants began popping up in shops dedicated to their consumption. These would have been tea shops, coffee shops, candy shops, tobacco shops, liquor establishments, and so on. Non-nutritives had to be sold to the consumer as an idea in order to get people to purchase them and as soon as sugar was added to make foods taste better, sugar became a valuable consumer commodity. Honey, molasses, and dried fruits, especially raisins and currants, were already part of the culture, but refined sugar displaced the natural sugars as food sweetners.

The legacy of the consumer revolution is refined white sugar. Another note on the concept of a coffee house is that the demand for coffee preceded the ability to get it from the field to the consumer. Coffee houses were meeting houses where merchants and consumers got together. The latest fashions showed up there and appearances were important. Men went to coffee houses to show off. The London Coffee House in Philadelphia in 1754 often had slave auctions just outside its doors. The genteel, authorities, and the richest of Philadelphia frequented this establishment. Civil courts were held here; people received the latest news here. Loitering was commonplace. British soldiers set up headquarters in the London Coffee House during the American Revolution and the Sons of Liberty met there up to the Revolution.


We also spent time in the library archives area of Winththur and were able to view, and touch, several artifacts dating back as early 1620. There were books, doll clothes, maps, scrapbooks, and many other historic items. Winterthur has a research library that is widely respected and frequented.

Our group was fortunate to each receive Cathy Matson’s power point presentation about the consumer and market revolutions. The information is incredible. I will have no trouble using every bit of it with my students. I appreciate her generosity in sharing it with us.

That’s all for today. The answer to the trivia question is: Delaware is nicknamed the Constitution State because it was the first state to sign the Constitution.

Day 13 is Gettysburg. I’ve been looking forward to this experience for months, especially the site of Little Round Top and Pickett’s Charge.

Until tomorrow…




  1. The du Pont mansion/museum was filled with many beautiful pieces of furniture and antiques, but I liked this staircase the best. I thought it would be fun to slide down the bannister. 🙂

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