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Henry Francis du Pont and Winterthur

Updated on November 11, 2010


In 1837, Jacques Antoine Bidermann, who was born in the Swiss city of Winterthur and married Eleuthère Irenée du Pont de Nemours' daughter Evelyne, bought the estate, and he built a mansion called Winterthur.

He developed the estate into a fully self-sustaining farm.

Bidermann's son, James Irenée, didn't want to live in America and he returned to France. In 1865 Eleuthère Irenée died, and two years later James sold the estate to his uncle, Henry du Pont, who bought it for his son Henry Algernon.

Henry Algernon kept on buying more land, until he owned some 1,000 hectares with 20 farms.He started a dairy farm, extended the gardens, enlarged the mansion, and added a railway and a station.

All of this was not as difficult as it may sound, because he also happened to be chairman of the local railroad...

Henry Francis du Pont

In 1880 his son Henry Francis du Pont was born in Winterthur.

After his mother passed away in 1902, he lived full time in Winterthur, and managed the estate, together with his father.

In 1906, his father was elected senator, and gradually he gave full control of the estate to Henry Francis.

The Winterthur Estate

Over the years Henry Francis expanded the estate, and he based it on the example of the English Country Estates. He added a cattle farm, a butchery, a chicken farm, a sawmill, a post office, a fire department and a hospital, and had a staff of about 300 people.

He also built ninety houses on the domain for his staff, and raised his cattle so expertly, that his Holstein cows became the best milk cows in the USA !

Besides the work on the estate, of course there were the countless social receptions and the entertainment of high-ranking guests, such as Eleanor Roosevelt.

In 1928 he extended the house to 175 rooms over eight floors, and started an extensive collection of American decorative artifacts. This was rather unusual, as most wealthy patrons used to collect European art in those days.

The lavish receptions at the estate continued to attract many famous personalities, such as Jackie Kennedy. During the weekend they could enjoy the pool, tennis, golf, croquet, bridge, bowling, squash, billiards and the magnificent gardens, all the while being pampered with culinary gala-dinners of fresh home-grown products !

Older people still remember Henry du Pont, a fabulously rich but very affable man, who constantly walked around, dressed in suit and tie, and with a book in his hand to take notes. For example, he never learned to drive because he was always driven around...

Creating a Museum

Starting in 1942, he opened parts of his home and his collection to the public and played with the idea to have it converted to a museum after his death.

In 1951, at the age of 71, he wished to be involved in creating this museum.

He built a more "modest" house of 57 rooms, just off the main house. He also sold large portions of land, so that the present surface of 390 hectares could be better kept under control. he made sure that the land that was sold could never be built on, so that the property's panoramic view would never be limited !

In 1959, the property was transferred to the Winterthur Corporation.

Henry Francis du Pont remained active on the estate until 1969, when he died at the age of 89 years.

He was a perfectionist, who considered even the smallest details. He was also a very humanitarian employer, with a heart for his staff and their families. Next to his other considerable accomplishments, in these qualities he leaves another legacy.


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