With the introduction of The Cavalcade of America to the American public, DuPont was presented with the opportunity for production of a new corporate image. Having made too much money from wartime production, the company had suffered in public opinion in the years preceding the Cavalcade. The show became a way to mask the money-making side of DuPont’s business and present instead the ways in which DuPont was making life better for Americans, hence their catchphrase, “Better things for better living, through chemistry.” With Each show, DuPont was able to align itself with an American hero and to take on the characteristics of that hero. As they presented themselves to listeners, DuPont was hard-working like Abe Lincoln, boldly idealistic like General Lafayette, humble like George Washington, and ingenious like Edison. Most of all, though, and we see this in nearly every character of the Cavalcade, DuPont was presented as disinterested in personal gain, monetary or otherwise. Below are several of the character types taken on by the corporate entity, their heroic personalities becoming a brilliant mask for DuPont in the Cavalcade Masquerade.
In the effort to restore a shine to the tarnished image DuPont had earned by making a large profit from wartime sales, it was important that the company emphasized its relationship with the average American. That they chose to do this through a program highlighting extraordinary Americans is a point worth further consideration. What The Cavalcade of America managed to achieve so artfully was a combination of the corporation with the heroes that it selected. The characteristics and attributes of the hero become so intertwined with the goals of DuPont that the two in a sense become the same entity. Through this mélange, DuPont manages to make itself retroactively present at the greatest moments in American history. Once this image of corporation as hero had been achieved, the goal of each program was to show this new hybrid-hero in moments of true democracy. Buffalo "DuPont" Bill wants to settle the west so that it will be safe for everyone. The boy Ben "DuPont" Franklin dreams of the day when everyone will benefit from his wit and wisdom. We also see these heroes in direct communication with the populace, as when a little boy babbles overjoyed to his father, "to think it was General Washington! And I talked to him as if he were any neighbor!" Indeed, DuPont, working vicariously through the great men of America, is as humble as any neighbor, desiring not fame nor recognition nor $238 million in wartime profits, but simply better things, for better living, through chemistry.
Scratchy and full of static as it may be, the old-time radio message comes through loud and clear. Had they not been the great leaders of America, the presidents listed in DuPont's Cavalcade of America would no doubt have been research chemists in DuPont's forward-thinking laboratories. True servants of the people, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln all embodied those characteristics which were necessary for success in every line of experimentation. Presenting in this manor, The Cavalcade of America places its scientists and their experiments on rubber, fabric and freon in the line of direct inheritance from the founding fathers and the great experiment of democracy. America is painted as a testing ground for the future. Each new law passed or bill drafted becomes a potential breakthrough; the key to "better living, through chemistry."
No stretch of the imagination is required to see how DuPont and The Cavalcade of America managed to incorporate America's canon of inventors into its corporate agenda. The research laboratories which were so celebrated by DuPont's programs were, as they existed, essentially invented by Thomas Alva Edison. Those teams working around the clock to invent a better form of rayon, are organized by the same lines that Edison's invention factory was. They are thinking with the same kind of inquisitive mind that Franklin did when he first put up his kite, and their intent is purely selfless. Just as Luther Burbank "wanted everybody to benefit from [his] new Burbank potato," rather than sell its rights to make money on the seed, DuPont's chemists are also hard at work with the good of the American people as their motivating force.
A revolutionary, a man outside the bounds of common and even accepted thought and practice, is not the ideal salesman, but The Cavalcade of America finds a revolutionary in nearly all of its candidates for canonization. The tradition of revolutionary is followed throughout its evolution by the cavalcade, beginning with the framers of the declaration, and encompassing many others, all opposed in their attempts to better America. As a boy Ben Franklin is punished for writing incendiary letters to a local publication, as a man he is celebrated for the same. Thomas Edison is opposed by all in his effort to install an invention in the window of a dying girl's room, until the makeshift air-conditioner saves her life. Annie Oakley becomes the best at her game in a world where women are not allowed, and Luther Burbank defies all common sense when he splices almond trees with plum sprigs. The Cavalcade incorporates this character into its cause, appropriating the heroic archetype of one who steps outside of society in order to aid it. Although we do not understand it completely, we must still believe that DuPont's chemistry is for "better living."
Part of the genius of DuPont's programming was the ability of the creators to reconcile the many contradictory aspects of American culture. For the millions of hard-working Americans listening in their living-rooms, it might have seemed difficult to view a bespectacled bookworm as any kind of hero. Through careful selection of dramatized scenes, however, the ivory-tower-dwelling elite of academia become true American heroes. John Bartram can be nothing but a hero as he is introduced to us, a humble farmer with a keen interest in the plants that he grows. He is not born into intelligencia, but rather must pull himself into it, like any good American. He buys a book to learn botany, only to find that it is all in latin. So he buys another book, and through sheer will teaches himself the ancient language in order to be able to read the botany text. Upon reading the botany text, he uses his knowledge to create better seeds and more beautiful flowers for America. Noah Webster's project could likewise be seen as highbrow, but the cavalcade shows us an intellectual whose labor is for the people, so that there might be a unified American language, and a unified American people.