- Media mogul
- Used newspapers to wage personal vendettas against members of his own family
- Namesake of the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards
Alfred Irenee duPont (1864-1935) is the man for whom the prestigious Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (known as the duPont Awards) for radio and television news and public service reporting are named. So too is the Alfred I. duPont Center for Broadcast Journalism (part of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, which also administers print journalism’s Pulitzer Prizes) that gives these annual awards. His widow established the awards in 1942 through the tax-exempt Alfred I. duPont Awards Foundation.
Like Alfred Nobel, creator of the Nobel Prizes, duPont’s family fortune came initially from munitions. Much of America’s gunpowder since 1802 has been produced by E.L. DuPont de Nemours & Company in Delaware, a chemical company that Alfred and two cousins in 1902 helped keep in his family’s hands. Alfred also established his own independent financial empire in Florida.
Beginning in 1911 Alfred duPont quietly built by acquisition a chain of Delaware newspapers. According to a 2004 biography by Columbia University, he then used these publications “for effecting liberal and progressive reforms in a state which had long been the archaic feudal fiefdom of his own family. He wrote many of the editorials himself and used his editors and reporters to help break the old party machine dominated by his cousins … and forced a revision of Delaware tax laws which had long favored the rich and deprived the general public of social services and an adequate educational system.”
In short, DuPont used his newspapers to wage personal vendettas against rival members of his own family, especially two of his cousins, by promoting laws to tax away more of their wealth and reduce their political and intra-family power relative to his own. He disguised these selfish personal motives in the cloak of “progressive” rhetoric.
DuPont was an eccentric who one day persuaded the lower house of the Delaware legislature secretly to pass personal legislation to change the surname of his ex-wife’s two sons in order to spite her. He had caused a scandal by divorcing her to marry his just-divorced cousin Alicia. After prolonged and bitter lawsuits and legal battles with his family (which ostracized him as a result of that new union), Alfred was ousted from any role in the Du Pont company in 1916. His acquisition and manipulation of Delaware newspapers was mostly to give himself weapons in this family conflict.
With a reputation for eccentricity, DuPont believed that the pet dog “Mummy” he acquired during a trip to Egypt possessed magical powers and could “produce wonders as great as those of Aladdin’s genie.” He also believed that this dog was, in the occult parlance of witchcraft, his personal “familiar.”