Hagley Museum & Library

An Explosive New Invention

If you had a genius new idea in the early years of the United States, you had to submit an application and a miniature, working model of your invention to the U.S. Patent Office. But several decades of inventiveness soon filled the Office’s storage spaces to bursting, and eventually the government sold off many of these models. Today, museums and private collectors treasure these tiny examples of American creativity. At Hagley Museum & Library, thanks to years of careful collecting and a recent acquisition of over 4,000 patent models, you can see miniature versions of many early American inventions.

One of the stone gunpowder mills at Hagley. Courtesy of Hagley Museum and Library

Hagley interprets the history of technology and, in particular, the gunpowder works founded by the du Pont family. It’s fitting that a number of the museum’s patent models relate to the production of gunpowder. One example is this unassuming group of brass tubes, patented in 1865 by John Smith, William G. Bates, and Catharine S. Smith.


Courtesy of Hagley Museum and Library

In 1865, gunpowder was in high demand in the United States, with the Civil War in its fifth year and construction and railroading demanding demolition supplies. This particular innovation combined what had been two distinct steps in gunpowder production: “glazing” (where the powder was tumbled to polish the sharp edges off individual grains) and drying to remove residual moisture. This new machinery was both faster and safer than previous processes.

The DuPont Company paid close attention to the latest technology, including this machinery, making them a production and innovation powerhouse. Today, you can visit Hagley to see the full-size world of gunpowder manufacturing: surviving worker housing, the du Ponts’ original home, and functioning mills. In the museum’s galleries, you can study the miniature world of technological innovation, the intricate patent models created by ambitious early American inventors.


Visit Hagley Museum & Library

Location: 200 Hagley Creek Road, Wilmington, DE 19807

Phone: (302) 658-2400

Hours: 10AM-4/5 PM (depending on season).

Admission: $14.00 adult/$5.00 children (student, senior, and military discounts).

Visit their website and Facebook!

Connections: Just around the bend from Hagley, you can visit another du Pont estate, Nemours Mansion and Gardens.

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