Du Pont's Wonder World of Chemistry: Corporate Culture as Public Culture in the Twentieth Century
During the twentieth century, business executives perceived a troubling trend amongst their employees and the general public: Americans appeared ignorant to the workings of the business system and were therefore susceptible to un-American political and economic philosophies. The major events of the century, including the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, further fuelled the business community’s fears that a sweeping tide of government regulation, high taxation, and creeping socialism was threatening its traditional interests. In response, corporations launched public relations campaigns intended to correct what executives understood as misconceptions about the American economic system, and in turn, developed a public culture that championed free enterprise, production and consumption. The chemical research company, Du Pont, also turned to public relations in the 1930s. Executives were spurred into action by negative press garnered by the Nye Commission, which branded the firm “merchants of death.” In 1935, the company launched its “Better Living” campaign, which lasted well into the 1960s. “Du Pont’s Wonder World of Chemistry: Corporate Culture as Public Culture in the Twentieth Century” details the ways in which Du Pont used public relations and its corporate sponsored-media as an opportunity to legitimize the firm’s existence and its corporate culture within the existing American socio-economic landscape. By examining the firm’s public relations materials intended to provide its employees and the general public with a better understanding of the American economic system, this dissertation explores how corporate public relations reverberated into a shared American public culture. Throughout the twentieth century, Du Pont’s radio and television programs, films, company magazines, fair exhibits, press releases, and internal memorandums consistently and pragmatically asserted the necessity of big business within the American socio-economic landscape by conflating American history, and economic terms such as competition and production, with business-sponsored definitions of American liberties. Ultimately, Du Pont’s public relations is a window into corporate value creation, exploring the ways businessmen’s private interests translated into a public culture that valued free enterprise, consumption, and production as the only American way during the twentieth century.