Harry Fletcher Brown (1867-1944) left an enormous legacy to the state of Delaware. As a chemist and industrialist, most of his career was with the E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company where he began as a technical director and rose to the position of vice president. After his retirement in 1930, he dedicated his personal fortune and time to public service and philanthropy. At his death in 1944, Harry Fletcher Brown left $4,500,000, in eleven bequests, all benefiting public institutions.
He received an A.B. (1890) in chemistry and an A.M. (1892) in physics from Harvard College. Within a year of graduation he was appointed chief chemist at the United States Naval Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island. It was in this position that he helped to develop a new formula for smokeless powder, which would forever secure him a place in the history of the chemical industry. By 1904 he began work at E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, where he stayed for the rest of his career.
Brown’s accomplishments were extensive. His initial career at the E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company was centered on his work in smokeless powder, and then his managerial skills catapulted him into a high decision-making position in the company. Brown amassed enough money to become one of the great benefactors of education and social services in the state of Delaware in the first half of the twentieth century.
The highlights of Brown’s philanthropy included gifts to the University of Delaware for a chemistry building, a dormitory, and completion of other facilities; to the State of Delaware for a new vocational high school, which was named in Brown’s honor; to the YMCA and YWCA for a shared community building; and to the Delaware Hospital and School of Nursing (in Wilmington).
Brown was a trustee for the University of Delaware, and received an honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University in June 1930. Among his community service were his roles as a board member for the Wilmington Institute Free Library, a director for the Historical Society of Delaware, a director for Children’s Bureau of Delaware, the chairman of the advisory committee of the YWCA, a trustee and chairman of the finance committee of the Delaware Hospital, and a life member of the National Education Association. In addition, Brown was a president and member of the Delaware State Board of Education.
Brown was born on July 10, 1867, at Natick, Massachusetts. His parents were William H. and Maria F. (Osgood) Brown. On October 26, 1897 Brown married Florence Matilda Hammett (d. 1952) of Newport, Rhode Island. He died on February 28, 1944.
Perkins, John A. and Robeson Bailey. Harry Fletcher Brown, An Essay in Appreciation. Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 1960.
Historical and biographical information obtained from this collection.
The Harry Fletcher Brown Collection, spanning the years 1881-1960 (bulk dates 1910-1952), contains correspondence, newspaper clippings, speeches, business cards, legal documents, printed material, ephemera, a photograph, World War I medal, programs, and blueprints of his Wilmington, Delaware, residence.
This small collection contains material that gives an overview of his life from high school days in 1880s to his adulthood to his death in 1944. Much of the content focuses on Brown’s career at the E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, his philanthropy, and the outpouring of response after his death.
The collection is housed in one box, which contains ten folders and a scrapbook, and an oversize folder. The folders contain biographical material (F1), which seems to be part of the research used by John A. Perkins (president of the University of Delaware from 1950-1967) and Robeson Bailey to write Harry Fletcher Brown, An Essay in Appreciation. According to Library records, the scrapbook was compiled by Mrs. Harry Fletcher Brown.
There are eight letters dated from 1910- 1930. Seven letters are to Brown from executives with the E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company including Irénée du Pont and Pierre S. du Pont. One of the letters is handwritten by Brown to Pierre S. du Pont (F5).
The collection contains originals and copies of documents that Brown used in the application process for smokeless powder. His patent was an improvement on an existing smokeless powder (F6).
The scrapbook contains a range of items that highlight Brown’s career in the chemical industry and his years as a philanthropist. It includes announcements of gifts made during his life, obituaries and news clippings about the public bequests of Brown’s estate, and numerous tributes and resolutions in memory of Brown.
The collection also contains a number of blueprints for the Wilmington, Delaware, home of Harry Fletcher Brown, built in 1918. There is a 1918 blueprint of billiard room mantel produced by architect Charles Barton Keen of Philadelphia, a 1919 blueprint of a pavilion lattice and summer home by architect Charles Wellford Leavitt of New York, New York, and three 1921 blueprints for a Tea House, also created by Leavitt. There are four 1963 blueprints related to the proposed development of what would become the Ingleside Homes (which share a property with the Brown mansion) produced by architects Victorine and Samuel Homsey and 1981 plans for an Ingleside Annex building produced by Carew Associates Inc.