Meet The Chemical King Who Cultivates Conservatories

Pierre S. du Pont's money came from a corporate empire of chemicals and cars — the family business is a little 200-year-old company called DuPont — but he's probably best known for buying a plot of land west of Philadelphia in 1906 and turning it into one of the nicest botanical gardens in the country.

He also did some weird things with that land, including installing a massive pipe organ, elaborate fountains, and an enormous conservatory. He also married his cousin at age 45. But hey, without du Pont and his creation of the Longwood Foundation, the Longwood Gardens wouldn't be the mid-Atlantic treasure that it is today. He was also an active philanthropist in his lifetime, and his foundation has gone on to become a benefactor for Delaware and parts of Pennsylvania.

The land that is now Longwood Gardens is, in some form or another, much older than the Longwood Foundation that shares its name. In fact, the land was originally purchased in 1700 from William Penn by George Peirce, whose family would establish it as an arboretum in 1798. It's been a botanical garden open to the public for the most part ever since. It was on the brink of being sold for lumber when du Pont bought it in 1906.

He made it his own private estate, but it was often open to the public. And the guy loved this place, making elaborate improvements inspired by his world travels, like the famed pipe organ and system of huge fountains still in place today. He would even spontaneously give visitors tours himself.

du Pont founded Longwood Foundation in 1937 as Longwood Gardens grew more developed and popular, as he wanted to ensure its stability after his death. He left most of his estate to the cause. 

Today the Gardens thrive, and du Pont's legacy still funds them to the tune of $9 million in 2012 and $7 million in 2011. Longwood Foundation has since expanded its focus beyond just its initial purpose, giving $32 million in 2011 to a variety of causes, mostly in Delaware and to Chester County to the west of Philadelphia. Find out more about the foundation's guidelines here.