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James DuPont

American James Maxime DuPont (7 April 1912 – 1 July 1991) was an industrialist and passionate meteorite collector. His father was Jean Rene Claudius DuPont, a chemist. James DuPont was the founder and chairman of Thermoplastics Inc., a producer of plastic materials for various products. Plastic means pliable and easily shaped. DuPont did not invent plastic. In 1869, inspired by a New York fir’s offer of $10,000 to anyone who could provide a substitute for ivory, John Wesley Hyatt invented the first synthetic polymer. In 1907, Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, meaning it contained no molecules found in nature. Bakelite was marketed as “the materials of a thousand uses.” Hyatt’s and Baekeland’s success led major chemical companies to invest in the research and development of new polymers or plastic. In 1948, James DuPont founded Thermoplastics Inc., in Warren, New Jersey, a successful plastics company

 


34 gram Lake Murray IIAB iron meteorite with hand painted DuPont number and DuPont label written filled out by James DuPont. Lake Murray is the oldest unaltered meteorite known. It was found in a layer of Antler Sandstone of the Lower Cretaceous period which was about 110 million years ago. The Lake Murray meteorite landed when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Lake Murray was found on a farm in 1933 and is the largest meteorite found in Oklahoma weighing 600 pounds (270 Kg).

 


The other side of the Lake Murray specimen with a Smithsonian label attached to it. When Lake Murray was first discovered, Dr. Lincoln LaPaz of the University of New Mexico confirmed that it was a meteorite. This special piece being the oldest unaltered meteorite known with a Smithsonian label, hand painted James DuPont number and hand written label has it all.

 

According to his son, Joe, James preferred to be called Jim. On 7 April 1912, Jim was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He dropped out of high school and enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Radioman, third class. Joe DuPont, Jim’s son told me that while Jim was out to sea as a Naval Reservist, he saw a meteor fall into the sea. That began his fascination with meteorites. Jim collected many things like minerals, dueling pistols, meteorites and old watches.

Jim started out modestly with his meteorite collection, then he began adding to his collection in earnest. He would follow reports of possible meteorite falls or find and would fly off all over the world to acquire a new meteorite for his collection. His zeal for collecting was enormous, and he once paid for a marine diving operation to try and recover the meteorite that was seen falling into the east coast waters, but without success. Jim would go to Antarctica to hunt for meteorites.

 


Hand written letter from James DuPont to Elbert King (1935-1998). Elbert King earned a doctorate from Harvard, and worked at NASA training Apollo astronauts and becoming the first Lunar Sample Curator. Elbert King proposed how lunar samples should be collected, handled, preserved and stored under carefully controlled conditions to protect and preserve the moon rocks. He left NASA to join the faculty at the University of Houston where he chaired the Geosciences Department for many years. In the letter, DuPont is informing King about meteorites DuPont is sending him.

 

Jim was generous, and would donate specimens in his collection for research. He would alert labs to unusual samples he acquired. Jim would rescue meteorites from collectors, so they may be available to researchers instead of being locked up for decades. He was a financial underwriter for the Meteoritical Society in New York City.

Jim had many friends in the meteorite community. He was friends with Al Lang and Bob Haag (“Meteorite Man”). Joe, Jim’s son, recalled a story about Bob Haag in which Bob told Jim that he would dedicate a book about meteorites to him since Bob had overcharged Jim for some meteorites which assisted Bob in starting his meteorite business.

 


11.3 gram Lake Labyrinth LL6 meteorite with hand painted DuPont number on it. The Lake Labyrinth meteorite was found in South Australia in 1924 by an aboriginal only a couple of weeks after a probable fall, but most of the meteorite was found later in 1934 for a total of 25.8 kg.

 


The back side of my Lake Labyrinth specimen.

 

At the time of Jim’s passing on 1 July 1991, Jim’s meteorite collection was the largest (non-governmental) private collection in the world. After his passing, his family wanted to keep Jim’s meteorite collection intact, and donated the collection to the Planetary Studies Foundation, where it was known as the “James M. DuPont Meteorite Collection.” The impressive collection was collected over thirty years and contained 1,719 individual meteorites, with a total mass of over 500 kilograms with an estimated value of three million dollars. When the Planetary Studies Foundation (“PSF”), first acquired the collection, it stood at 970 with an additional 45 unclassified specimens. By acquiring new specimens though purchase, trades and field research, the collection grew.

In 2007, several of the Planetary Studies Foundation’s executive board members brought up the issue of responsibility to the DuPont family to preserve and protect the James M. DuPont Meteorite Collection. The PSF recognized that it did not have the infrastructure and financial base to guarantee the safety of the collection. A search began to establish a partnership with a major museum to preserve and protect the collection. In May 2015, the PSF senior scientist, Dr. Tony Irving, mentioned the possibility of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. The transfer from the PSF to the Yale Peabody Museum took place in two phases and was completed in 2019.

 


This is an original dot matrix printed catalogue of the Jim DuPont collection.

 


Page one of the DuPont meteorite collection catalogue. The Abee and Allan Hills, Antarctica meteorites immediately caught my attention.

 


Page two of the DuPont meteorite collection catalogue. Check out the 22,287 grams of Allende. Meteorites from Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia also caught my eye.

 

The James M. DuPont Meteorite Collection is a valuable resource for researchers, as well as, an educational tool for the public. From May 1998 through June 2000, over 200 specimens from the collection was displayed at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Jim may be gone, but his legacy lives on through his exceptional meteorite collection.

 

References:

Phone calls and email with Joe DuPont, son of James Maxime DuPont.

Facebook page: James Maxine DuPont

The New York Times July 4, 1991 Obituaries

Wikipedia – James DuPont, Lake Murray meteorite and Lake Labyrinth meteorite

Science History Institute – “History and Future of Plastic”

SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System, Memorial for James Maxime DuPont, Meteoritics, Volume 27, No. 1, p. 105, E.J. Olsen

68th Annual Meteoritical Society Meeting (2005), Status of the James M. DuPont Meteorite Collection 1995 to 2004. P.P. Sipiera, K.J. Cole, J.R. Schwade, G.A. Jerman and B.D. Dod., Schmitt Meteorite Research Group, Harper College, Palatine, IL 60067 USA. psipiera@hapercollege.edu. Metallurgical Diagnostic Facility, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL 35812 USA. Dept. of Physics and Earth Sciences, Mercer University, Macon, GA 31207 USA.

Met Bulletin – Lake Murray meteorite and Lake Labyrinth meteorite

Meteoritics & Planetary Science, vol. 34, p. 677 – Memorial for Elbert Aubrey King, Jr.

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