The Nemours Children's Hospital Entrance in Orland, Florida

Alfred duPont and Edward Ball Created a legacy in Florida that is felt to this day.

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Edward Ball, the last of the Florida robber barons, died at age 96, still running his company and fighting every day for the control he’d always enjoyed. At the end of his life, he was in a legal battle with his own company over whether or not a frail older man should still be allowed to run such a large enterprise.

But who was Edward Ball? Where did he amass his fortune? And why is he a controversial figure?

To understand where Edward Ball came from, you have to know about Alfred Irénée duPont.

Alfred I. duPont is known today for the Nemours Foundation and the Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, but he also played an important role in Florida’s history.

Alfred I. duPont inherited a gunpowder company from his family. However, he still started at the bottom, working alongside the crews collecting the charcoal dust until he was covered head to toe in a black coat.

Working with charcoal dust was a dangerous job. While collecting and transporting the highly explosive material, an entire crew could be killed with just one spark.

Alfred was born in 1864 and was the oldest of 5 children. Because his parents were often absent, work became his new home. He would spend his days working and playing with the other miners’ children.

But things changed when Alfred was 13. His mother fell ill and died, followed by his father just three weeks later. From his deathbed, Alfred’s father told him to get an education and then come back and work for his uncle. So at 15, Alfred went away to boarding school and then to college.

When he returned home, Alfred picked up where he started—working as an apprentice in the powder factory. But it didn’t take long for him to rise in the ranks of the company.

By the time he was 25, he was promoted to manager. Alfred started to invent devices that would revolutionize the industry. He would go on to create over 200 patents.

After years of growing success, Alfred’s uncles decided to sell the company. The sale provided Alfred and his two cousins the opportunity to buy the company and keep it in the family. They won the bid, and Alfred had his company.

After a few years, they had grown to be the premier gunpowder makers. But after an internal disagreement and several legal battles, the board members ousted Alfred from the company.

Alfred tried his hand in a few businesses, but almost all failed, and he found himself nearly broke and alone following the death of his second wife. He reunited with an old friend, and the two were married. Alfred and Jessie’s relationship proved to be pivotal in his business life as well.

The woman he married? Jessie Ball, the sister of Edward Ball, the man who became Alfred’s business partner, and the two later had a significant impact on Florida’s history.

DuPont was insecure about his looks. Alfred was deaf, and a gunshot wound from a hunting accident had left him with a glass eye. He had Edward take over as the face of his business.

Edward and Alfred saw many business opportunities in the “Sunshine State” during the great depression, and they moved into the massive DuPont estate outside of Jacksonville; Florida.

When the Great Depression hit Florida, it hit it hard. Two hurricanes and a devastating loss of the citrus industry just four years before the great depression devastated Florida’s economy. It was then that Alfred and Ed started buying up land in Florida.

DuPont amassed hundreds of thousands of acres of timberland and started the St, Joe Paper company. Our own company was later connected to this history. In 2014, Dean Saunders helped facilitate the sale of over 300,000 acres of St. Joe Paper company timberland.

During the depression, banks were shut down. DuPont and Ball saw an opportunity here and bought up a majority of banks in Florida. He was able to re-establish them with his wealth. This helped put Florida back on the path of recovery.

Mr. duPont also bought the East Coast Railroad Company, which was owned by Henry Flagler. Between duPont’s infusion of cash and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers, railroads were completed throughout the state, including down to the Florida Keys.

Alfred duPont helped shape the face of Florida history, but the story doesn’t end there. Edward Ball would go on to manage the fortune left behind after Mr. duPont died. Ball would use his fame, money, and influence to shape Florida further. 

Stay tuned for our next installment to learn more about Edward Ball.

 

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