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Painting Shows Dupont’s Roots, Nobody Knows How Cold It Is

by K. M. REESE
May 10, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 19



Painting shows DuPont's roots

Qoro LLC of New Castle, Del., has lately published a replica of a painting called “Stripping Willow Branches to Make Charcoal Used in the Manufacture of High-Grade Gunpowder, Eleutherian Mills, 1884,” which was painted in 1942. The artist was Stanley Massey Arthurs (1877–1950). For more than 60 years the painting has hung in the entrance hall of Granogue, the estate of Irénée du Pont Jr. The replicas are 24 by 20 inches, Qoro says. You can buy one for $250 from the Historical Society of Delaware, in Wilmington. Proceeds will benefit the society and the Granogue Reserve.


From 1804 to 1921, DuPont relied on women to debark branches from powder willow trees. The women sold the stripped willow branches to DuPont for charring to make charcoal. The company needed some 5 million lb per year of charcoal to make gunpowder and explosives. (Charred willow branches also make good charcoal sticks for artists.)

Willow wood is unusually free of minerals, Qoro says; it is also light, soft, porous, flexible, and coarse grained. Willow-wood charcoal is readily reduced to a uniform, reddish-black powder for roll milling with saltpeter and sulfur. The result is the black powder that DuPont made for hunting, mining, construction, and war. The powder also fueled DuPont’s early growth.

Qoro LLC has a proprietary process, developed with DuPont, for making replicas of paintings. The company says the replicas are true to the originals, won’t fade, and are water-resistant. The quality of the replicas must be approved and authorized by the private owner, museum, or other institution. The replica is photo-imaged directly from the originals at high resolution. The original is illuminated by pure white light—no ultraviolet or infrared radiation

Nobody knows how cold it is

For thousands of years, James Gorman wrote in the Feb. 10 New York Times, “nobody knew how cold it was.” Which is to say, they had no thermometers. Instead, “they used metaphors, often vulgar, to describe what the cold could do.”

The thermometer finally was invented in the 16th century. Not until the 18th century, however, were numerical scales (degrees) for the thermometer devised by Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit (1686–1736) and Anders Celsius (1701–44). Finally, people could talk about the weather in some kind of rational manner.

Things rocked along okay, Gorman says, until the 20th century, when meddlers invented the wind chill factor. The 21st century has brought even more complicated efforts by various parties to describe how hot or cold it is. Once again, Gorman writes, “nobody knows how cold it is.” When the authority of the thermometer is questioned, he goes on, social bonds may suffer. “If two people in the same bed can say at the same time, ‘I’m freezing!’ and ‘It’s an oven in here,’ without faith in an objective measurement, the whole point of science is called into question.”

Weather guessers are working on the problem. The U.S. and Canada recently revised the wind chill chart, the Times’s Gorman points out, upon learning that it “had been developed using small plastic bottles of water in Antarctica.” The more recent studies involved people walking on a treadmill in a cold laboratory in Toronto with wind blowing in their faces.
The Australian Robert Steadman, Gorman says, has created complex measures of the
apparent temperature. AccuWeather has devised a proprietary measure of the “RealFeel” temperature. Commission 6 of the International Society of Biometeorology is working on a temperature measurement “that will serve in cold, heat, wind, rain, and sun.”

Gorman cites Robert Henson of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo. Henson says, “There are so many ways to assess weather records. There’s always a way for a weathercaster to grab a statistic.”

And, according to Gorman, “there’s always a number for the public to puzzle over, wind chill being one of the most obvious. But despite the emphasis on the wind chill by forecasters, the index has long been known by scientists to be inadequate to the task of presenting an accurate account to the public of what the temperature feels like.”


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