Interview with Martin Luther Valentine, 1974 January [audio]

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  • Biographical details; education in chemistry and getting first job with DuPont Company Experimental Station; nickname of "Jimmy Valentine"
    Keywords: Chemistry; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. Experimental Station; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. Experimental Station--Employees; Nicknames
    Transcript: Ward: This is an oral interview with Martin Luther Valentine, 731 Nottingham Road, Wawaset Park, Wilmington, Delaware. He is a retired DuPont Company employee of 42 years. He worked in the Explosives Division at Carney's Point, New Jersey, and Old Hickory Plant, Nashville, Tennessee, and Indiana Ordnance Plant, Charlestown, Indiana. He was referred to us by Luther D. Reed.

    Ward: Will you tell us something of your name, where you were born, and how you happened to come to this area?

    Valentine: Well, I was born in Taneytown, Maryland...back to the year 1890, happened to be May 12th. [The year] after completing the elementary [and high] school system I went to Gettysburg College in the fall of 1908, majoring in chemistry. Upon graduation in 1912, Dr. Breidenbaugh, head of the Chemistry Department had contacted Dr. Reese, a friend of his and chemical director of the DuPont Company, and the exchange of correspondence resulted in my coming to Wilmington for an interview with - I believe it was Horace Chickering at that time - and he sent me out to see Dr. Sparre at the Experimental Station. A few days later I was notified to report for work [as soon as convenient.]

    My name was given as Martin Luther Valentine. The "Martin" being for my father and the "Luther" for my grandfather. To avoid confliction I was not referred to as Martin but as Luther, and that was used by my family until I left home. My new associates with the DuPont Company [p?] me "Here comes Jimmy Valentine" as a result of the musical comedy that was then playing on Broadway "Alias Jimmy Valentine" the safe cracker. And the name Jimmy has stuck with me since date of early 1913, while my immediate family called me Luther.
  • Work history and transfers within the DuPont Company from 1913 until retirement in 1955
    Keywords: Ballistics; Defense industries; Defense industries--Employees; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. Carney's Point Works; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. Experimental Station; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. Haskell Works; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. Indiana Ordnance Works; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. Old Hickory Plant; Gunpowder--Testing; Hercules Powder Company; Proving grounds; World War (1914-1918); World War (1939-1945)
    Transcript: I worked at the Experimental Station through '13 and 1914 when the war in Europe broke out. I first worked in the Analytical Division at the station, but a short time later I was transferred to the Ballistics Division to replace Lou Weldin who was going with the newly-formed Hercules Powder Company. I was at the Experimental Station under Mr. C.I.B. Henning and continued there until the Allies came to this country to purchase smokeless powder to carry on the war. The Carney's Point plant was greatly expanded at the time and in December 1914 I was transferred there as ballistic engineer to Carney's Point as ballistic engineer to conduct the testing of the smokeless powder that was being produced there for England, France, Italy, and Russia.

    I was there until the United States entered the war in April 1917 and the DuPont Co. undertook [requested by the U.S. War Department] to build and operate the Old Hickory Powder Plant at Nashville, Tennessee. I was transferred there in August 1917 and remained there in charge of the proving ground until the end of the war [plant was closed in the spring of 1919]. Following that I was transferred back to Wilmington in the old Chemical Company organized by the Company to dispose of the excess war plant equipment. In the fall of 1919 I was transferred to the Haskell, New Jersey powder plant manufacturing "Ballistite" type shotgun powder. In 1925 I was transferred to Carney's Point Smokeless Powder Plant where I remained in the Technical Department and the Manufacturing Department and was named assistant manager in 1932 and remained there until 1940.

    Following the outbreak of World War II, at which time the Company undertook to build a smokeless plant at Memphis, Tennessee to produce powder for England and France. I became manager of that plant in August 1941 and remained there during the transition of the operation of the plant to the United States government. I remained there until March 1943 when I was transferred as manager of the Indiana Ordnance Works at Charlestown, Indiana. That was a government-owned plant operated under contract by the DuPont Company. I remained there until after the end of the war, leaving in the early part of 1946 to return to Carney's Point where I remained until retirement in 1955.
  • Testing powder for foreign governments at Carney's Point works during World War I; attitude of workers after attack on Pearl Harbor; description of Old Hickory proving ground
    Keywords: Defense industries; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. Carney's Point Works; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. Old Hickory Plant; Employees--Attitudes; Gunpowder--Testing; Patriotism; Pearl Harbor, Attack on (Hawaii : 1941); Proving grounds; War work; World War (1914-1918)
    Transcript: Ward: You have been with the Company then through World War I and through World War II. Now, you mentioned the testing at Carney's Point - and in the Museum we have those little eprouvettes where they were testing powder in the early days - can you tell us something about how the testing was done at this plant?

    Valentine: We were manufacturing [both rifle and cannon] powder for England, France, and Russia and each of those countries furnished us with one of their 75 mm or 3-inch cannon for test purposes, and all of the end product at Carney's Point was tested in their guns. English powder was tested in the English gun, the French powder in the French, and the Russian powder in the Russian gun. [The rifle powder was tested at the Experimental Station.]

    Ward: Do you have any ideas as to the amount that was sent?

    Valentine: The amount that was made for each nation varied from, not month to month, but quarter to quarter. We were manufacturing approximately a million pounds a day and it was fairly equally divided between England, France and Russia. It could be that the majority of it went to Russia as I recall, [especially during 1915 and 1916.]

    Ward: What about the work force? Were you working around the clock?

    Valentine: Yes the manufacturing departments worked around the clock and through the weekends. The testing operation ran only in the daytime, and the number of men employed at Carney's Point at that time - I would say 10,000 to 15,000 men.

    Ward: Did many of them work double shifts?

    Valentine: Many worked double shifts if they could possibly arrange it; they were trying to earn all the money they could and they didn't hesitate to work double shifts.

    Ward: About what were wages at that point?

    Valentine: 50 cents an hour [at the beginning of the war but rapidly increased year by year].

    Ward: Is that right? What was the attitude of the workers? Did they feel caught up in the whole war? Do you think there was there great patriotism?

    Valentine: I can't recall the attitude during World War I, but in World War II, I remember after the Pearl Harbor disaster, 7th of December 1941, the feeling of the employees was they couldn't do enough, and when Christmas came along at the end of December and we talked about closing operations for the holidays the men offered to work. They didn't want to take off on Christmas Day and if necessary they would contribute that time for production.

    Ward: And did they work?

    Valentine: I think we closed on Christmas Day but I'm not positive. But I know the offer was that they would work. They wanted to work.

    Ward: When you were at Old Hickory at Nashville in charge of the proving ground, what type of equipment was used there?

    Valentine: That was World War I and that was solely a United States government operation, and there were no foreign ammunition used there - I mean no foreign ammunition tested there as I recall. We had a proving ground where we had a greater number of guns [hanging from 3-inch F.G. to 8-inch Howitzer] than we had at Carney's Point in World War I. Down there it was all for the United States government.

    Ward: How large an area was this proving ground would you say?

    Valentine: The proving ground, I think covered in the neighborhood of 300 acres. And the entire plant - of course that's all on record - that was about 3 or 4 miles square. It was in Hadley's Bend on the Tennessee River [about 15 miles from Nashville] and it occupied the entire bend of the river and I think it was 3 or 4 miles across.
  • Finding buyers for excess war plant equipment after World War I; establishment of the Ballistic Division of the DuPont Experimental Station prior to World War I
    Keywords: Defense industries; Gunpowder industry--Quality control; Gunpowder--Testing; Liquidation; Post-war demobilization; Quality control; World War (1914-1918)
    Transcript: Ward: You mentioned that later you were in charge of disposing this equipment.

    Valentine: I was not in charge of the Chemical Company. I came back to work as an office man. They were in the old building on Vandever Avenue. I'd say there were 50 men working in there lining up secondhand scrap buyers or secondhand equipment dealers and they would go out to the different plants and look over the excess and then come back and make an offer and we worked in there getting an inventory of all the equipment available for sale.

    Ward: What type of equipment might that be?

    Valentine: Old powder making machinery [such as mixing machines, dehy presses] and dormitory equipment - bathtubs, flush bowls, faucets and all that kind of material.

    Ward: When it was sold what percent of the cost do you suppose it was sold for at that time?

    Valentine: 5% to 10% would be my guess. It was all used material and a great deal of it was special equipment for use in making powder although some of the powder mixing machines were sold to bakers as dough mixers. So it was a long operation to locate buyers. Of course there was a lot of advertising going on at the same time, and buyers, secondhand dealers, came to look at the equipment.

    Ward: I don't suppose there wasn't too many ways that you could convert this material?

    Valentine: No. The need for smokeless powder equipment was finished. There would be no more wars. The idea was to get rid of it - get out of it all you could. One of the most interesting buyers was a man from Hagerstown, Maryland named Mike Brenner who bought hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of material, and it was reported that he accumulated a million dollars as a result [of his shrewd buying] even though he was not able to sign his name on his checks. He made a scratch mark that was identified [which his bank accepted].

    Ward: Where did some of these other dealers come from?

    Valentine: As I remember they would come from Philadelphia, Newark, N.J., Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg - around the eastern part of the country.

    Ward: Mr. Valentine, let's talk about the pre-World War testing of these ballistic missiles. Can you describe that for me?

    Valentine: Well, as I mentioned about the underground [firing] range at the Experimental Station where blasting powder was tested to determine its efficiency, or ballistic properties. This was accomplished in a small 1-inch diameter cannon with a 1-pound projectile which would determine the uniformity of the powder from the various black powder mills.

    Ward: When was this Ballistic Division of the Experimental Station started?

    Valentine: I believe it began about 1910 or '11 when it was found necessary to have an independent testing station to test the quality of the sporting powders and military [rifle] powders produced at Haskell, Parlin and Carney's Point. Before this was established not all of the product from these plants turned out to be similar when it got to its final usage, so the Experimental Station was established as an unbiased testing ground.

    Ward: I suppose when you were studying chemistry at Gettysburg you had no idea you would be getting into these areas.

    Valentine: When I was asked in the spring of 1913 whether I would accept a transfer to the Ballistics Division from the Analytical Division, I hesitated quite a bit; having spent 4 years studying chemistry and then leaving it to enter an entirely new field caused me to wonder, but I accepted the transfer and had no regrets afterwards.
  • Primary individuals within the DuPont Company responsible responsible for World War I production; powder inspections to maintain quality control
    Keywords: Defense contracts; Defense contracts--Management; Defense industries; Du Pont, Pierre S. (Pierre Samuel), 1870-1954; Gunpowder industry--Inspections; Gunpowder industry--Quality control; Gunpowder, Smokeless; Gunpowder--Testing; World War (1914-1918)
    Transcript: Ward: Mr. Valentine, when World War I came along, who were some of the men who were responsible for this World War I production?

    Valentine: Well of course at that time I guess we would say that Col. Buckner was the principal factor, together with Mr. P.S. du Pont and Mr. Burnside, Mr. H. F. Brown. All played a very important role in carrying out the terms of the contracts that were made. Of course, they were in the Wilmington office but the [production] work was carried out mostly at outlying points such as Carney's Point, Parlin, and Haskell, N.J. The important ingredient used such as nitrocellulose, was made at Hopewell, Virginia and shipped to these various plants. Mr. Porter was manager at Carney's Point, with W.F. Harrington assistant manager, A.B. Echols another assistant manager, and then of course in the [rifle powder] inspection work at the Experimental Station there was Mr. C.I.B. Henning, ballistics engineer, assisted by Herbert Kaighn [Paine?] and Herman Lloyd, all involved in the testing of the small arms smokeless powder such as rifle and revolver powder. Myself, I was located at Carney's Point in charge of the testing of cannon powder.

    Ward: When you mention these inspections, were they quite rigid inspections?

    Valentine: Naturally we wanted our powder to be as dependable as possible and the control of manufacture was subject to inspection in many stages, but the final inspection was the testing in the guns that it was to be used in. [Very rigid specifications had to be met.]

    Ward: Mr. Valentine, do you know of any publication that would give us anything on the Company's point of view of their success in the industry at this time?

    Valentine: Yes, I think the publication by Col. Buckner made to a salesmen's gathering in Atlantic City in 1918 would give a lot of details concerning their profits and success in completion of the work.

    Ward: I will check in the Library to see if we have a copy of that pamphlet. If not, perhaps we could borrow yours. I certainly do appreciate your taking your time to give us these memories of your experiences of your work activities in the Company.