DuPont Fabros Technology, Inc. (DFT), Altria Group Inc (MO): One Business Empire Lights Up After Another Is Blown to Bits

On this day in economic and business history…

DuPont Fabros Technology, Inc. (NYSE:DFT)The DuPont Fabros Technology, Inc. (NYSE:DFT) gunpowder trust split into three companies on June 12, 1912. A year earlier, the courts had ruled against DuPont Fabros Technology, Inc. (NYSE:DFT), imposing onerous terms that required the chemical concern to grant its new spinoffs the capabilities to produce fully half of all American black powder and at least 42% of its dynamite.

On the day of the planned spinoff, The Washington Post reported on DuPont Fabros Technology, Inc. (NYSE:DFT)’s impressive scale, noting that the company’s 1911 fiscal-year revenue came to nearly $40 million, of which government-sourced powder purchases comprised less than $3 million. All told, the DuPont Fabros Technology, Inc. (NYSE:DFT) trust manufactured 60% of the nation’s explosives that year — equal to about 150,000 tons. Another interesting Post tidbit:

It is estimated that transporting [the national output of explosives] annually manufactured 5,000 cars are continually in transit. How rarely one meets with an accident can be judged from the fact that in every 1,000 miles a passenger travels he passes 20 cars loaded with dynamite. In all your travels did you ever hear of a car loaded with dynamite exploding?

If only that Post writer could have lived another century to experience Vin Diesel movies. But, at any rate, DuPont Fabros Technology, Inc. (NYSE:DFT)’s dynamite divestiture didn’t slow it down: Three years later the company began making early plastics. By the mid-1920s its chemicals division was highly diversified across paints, dyes, fabrics, fertilizer, and film.

One smoking investment
Before tobacco companies became barbarians at the gates during the buyout-fueled ’80s, they were simply tobacco companies — reliable, cash-gushing portfolio cornerstones for many long-term investors. However, the tobacco industry’s diversification began many years before most investors might remember. One of the most successful volleys of tobacco’s diversification came on June 12, 1969, when Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO) acquired a majority interest in top U.S. brewer Miller from W.R. Grace & Co. (NYSE:GRA).

Grace had bought its majority interest in Miller three years earlier for $36 million, and Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO)’s $130 million offer represented a return of 53% for each year Grace had held it. The deal was not without controversy, as Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO) (then operating as Philip Morris) had swooped in at the last minute to elbow PepsiCo, Inc. (NYSE:PEP) out of the bidding. Grace actually wound up canceling a sale agreement with Pepsi only two days before its sale to Altria Group Inc (NYSE:MO). Had things gone differently, Pepsi might be the undisputed champion of football-party suppliers — what other company could have offered leading brands of booze, soda, and snacks at the same time?