Oral histories on work and daily life in the Brandywine Valley

About this collection

A collection of approximately 200 interviews conducted between 1953 and 1990 with people who lived and worked in New Castle County, Delaware. The recollections of the subjects cover a period from about 1900 to 1960. While the majority of the interviews are with those who have a connection with the DuPont Company or du Pont family either as employees or inhabitants of the area surrounding the company's operation on the Brandywine River, the collection also includes interviews with those who worked in other industries in Delaware during this era such as Hodgson Woolen Mill, Lobdell Car Wheel Company, Hoopes Brother & Darlington, and Joseph Bancroft & Sons. In addition to documenting work and labor during this period, the interviewers delve deeply into the social and cultural lives of their subjects. Issues related to domesticity, gender, education, childhood, ethnicity, medicine, etc. are among the topics covered in the interviews. Also of note are interviews with a journalist (Fred Reybold) and an early broadcaster (Willard Wilson) who worked in Delaware.

    For more information about the collection, click here to view the finding aid.
    Image: Vance Mitchell during 1968 interview. Click to view.

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Interview with Oliver Collins, 1972 July 6-7 [audio]
Collins describes how he was trained as a miller, how his business expanded, the different crops ground at his facility, the process of grinding corn and wheat, different grades of flour produced, and explosions that occurred in the mill business. He also discusses the role of grain elevators in the mill process.
Interview with Les Mathewson, 1976 September 3 [audio](part 3)
Mathewson describes stone quarrying work in detail, including the process, tools, and his various job responsibilities. He also discusses his time working in the hydroelectric plant.
Interview with Les Mathewson, undated [audio](part 4)
Mathewson describes stone quarrying work in detail, including the process, tools, and his various job responsibilities. He also discusses his time working in the hydroelectric plant.
Interview with Emily Peoples Blackwell, 1970 July 6 [audio]
Blackwell details various childhood experiences, including playing and sledding in Squirrel Run, paddle boating in the Brandywine, attending Christ Church, and studying at Alexis I. du Pont School and Beacom's Business School. She also discusses interactions with members of the du Pont family, including Alfred I., Bessie G., Madeline, and Louise Crowninshield. Her interview provides details into daily life at Squirrel Run and of powder workers' families.
Interview with Willard S. Wilson, 1977 June 2 [audio]
Wilson describes Charles Lindbergh's visit to the DuPont Company and his speech at Baynard Stadium. His interview describes the development of broadcast journalism in the 1920s, his early career as a wireless operator for the Marconi Company, playing piano for silent films for the DuPont Company at the Playhouse Theatre, and his career in radio.
Interview with Louise F. Poole, 1974 March 4 [audio]
Poole describes her family's genealogy in detail, her hobbies and activities in Wilmington, Wilmington society in the early twentieth century, and daily life.
Interview with Oliver Collins, 1973 July 19 [audio](part 1)
Collins describes different kinds of turbines, wheel diameters and their various usage, and other industrial machines essential to his business. He also describes his family history and the running of the millrace, as well as overcoming problems such as rot. He describes the environment and wildlife in the area and also discusses his other interest in cutting hair.
Interview with Alfred Evans, May 1973 [audio]
Evans describes how he obtained the job through his brother. He also describes his impressions of Delaware and Boca Grande. He also presents details about Mrs. Crowninshield's personality, including how she sought to send those who could not pay to school and how she encouraged him to take a vacation with the car.
Interview with Oliver Collins, 1973 July 19 [audio](part 2)
Collins describes different kinds of turbines, wheel diameters and their various usage, and other industrial machines essential to his business. He also describes his family history and the running of the millrace, as well as overcoming problems such as rot. He describes the environment and wildlife in the area and also discusses his other interest in cutting hair.
Interview with John Gilbert Braun, 1973 April 17 [audio](part 1)
Braun's interview describes the changes in the equipment that have occurred since his time working and when the interview was conducted in 1973. He also describes his experience as a black man working for this company, workers' behavior after an explosion, the most desirable positions within the organization, and different elements of the powder mill process, including clean up. The second part of his interview discusses the place of the workers in the community, maintenance of various machines, and testing of the finished powders.
Interview with John Gilbert Braun, 1973 April 17 [audio](part 2)
Braun's interview describes the changes in the equipment that have occurred since his time working and when the interview was conducted in 1973. He also describes his experience as a black man working for this company, workers' behavior after an explosion, the most desirable positions within the organization, and different elements of the powder mill process, including clean up. The second part of his interview discusses the place of the workers in the community, maintenance of various machines, and testing of the finished powders.
Interview with Joe Costello, 1973 April 17 [audio](part 1)
Costello describes the various responsibilities of his job, the different jobs that made up the powder yard, and typical wages. He also describes his work in the office and changes throughout the company over the years, most of which have reflected safety concerns.
Interview with Joe Costello, 1973 April 17 [audio](part 2)
Costello describes the various responsibilities of his job, the different jobs that made up the powder yard, and typical wages. He also describes his work in the office and changes throughout the company over the years, most of which have reflected safety concerns.
Interview with Martin Luther Valentine, 1974 January [audio]
Valentine describes DuPont's role in manufacturing smokeless powder and ballistics in both World War I and World War II, the layout of the plants in which he worked, the morale of employees during wartime, and testing ballistic missiles.
Interview with Mary Hazzard Collins, 1974 March [audio]
Collins describes her first job as keeping track of the time slips and her second job working operating the elevators at 10th and Market. Her interview details the explosion of 1918; various interactions with du Pont family members, including Irenee, Lammot, T. Coleman, and Miss Sybil Ward; and a car accident that cost her her sight in one eye. The interview also features Mr. Collins, her husband.
Interview with Catherine C. Irving (Mrs. A. Duer Irving), 1974 February 21 [audio](part 1)
Irving describes in detail her relationship with her husband's cousin, Mrs. Louise du Pont Crowninshield, including her interests and personality. She briefly describes relationships with other members of the du Pont family.
Interview with Edwin G. Smyth, 1974 January 29 [audio]
Smyth describes his father's career and relationship with the du Pont family, Smyth's own career and various moves within the company, and his work in construction engineering. He also reminisces about the 100th anniversary celebration in 1902.
Interview Catherine C. Irving (Mrs. A. Duer Irving), 1974 February 21 [audio](part 2)
Irving describes in detail her relationship with her husband's cousin, Mrs. Louise du Pont Crowninshield, including her interests and personality. She briefly describes relationships with other members of the du Pont family.
Interview with Harry Barry, 1974 May 1 [audio]
The relationship between the Barrys and the Crowninshields began around 1871. Barry describes his first meeting with Mrs. Crowninshield after her honeymoon in 1900. They relocated to Wilmington in 1910, where he was present for the restoration of Eleutherian Mills. His interview details his impressions of Louise du Pont Crowninshield, including her discouragement during the redecoration process and philanthropic activities in Boca Grande, as well as her general disposition and enjoyment of flowers and antiquing. There is also a short three minute interview with a former gardener of Mrs. Crowninshield who is unidentified.
Interview with William H. Buchanan, 1974 July 25 [audio]
Buchanan describes his father's career, the layout of the powder yards, functions of various equipment, and the working environment at Hagley.
Interview with Dennis Buckley, 1975 January 10 [audio]
Buckley's interview details his impressions of the du Pont family members, his job in the mailroom of the company, working for the Diamond Ice and Coal Company, and running a liquor store.
Interview with Harold W. Hocker, 1975 June 24-25 [audio]
Hocker describes the creation of the H.W. Hocker Manufacturing Company, including how the company handled the Great Depression, the development of brush manufacturing and the trajectory of the company, and other products that they produced, including bottle caps and aluminum cans. He also touches on the equipment used, ordering materials for the process, and learning how to make brushes. He discusses the fear of spreading anthrax in the import of bristles, waste in the brush process, and attempting to use synthetic materials. He also describes the machines used as well as other tools of the trade. Hocker talks about publishing trade catalogs and the standardization of brush-making. Finally, he describes the conception of the idea and the typical brush market.
Interview with James F. Toy Sr., 1971 September 4 [audio]
Toy describes his work on Mrs. Louise du Pont Crowninshield's staircase in detail, the restoration of the First Office, and Mrs. Crowninshield's decorating style. He also describes in detail his memories and work on Eleutherian Mills and Winterthur.

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