As the twentieth century dawned, Wilmington was a small industrial city of 76,500; by 1919, the city's history was inextricably bound up in the history of the du Pont family and the Du Pont Company, a connection that provided a solid basis for the inauguration of a new educational venture. When the founders of Tower Hill School first met on 23 January 1919, events of the preceding two decades had prepared a ground well suited to cultivation. Irénée du Pont, who hosted the initial gathering at his home on Rising Sun Lane and who eventually served the school as the first president of the Board of Trustees, shared his family's unambiguous commitment to Wilmington and to Delaware.
In 1902, control of the Du Pont Company changed hands and generations, as three du Pont cousins in their thirties, Alfred I., Pierre S., and T. Coleman, took charge. The decision of these men to keep the company headquarters in Wilmington assumed tangible form in the Du Pont Building constructed on Rodney Square in 1906. The new structure, towering over all its neighbors, underscored emphatically the family's tie to the city which had been its home for a century. In the years that followed, the company grew rapidly and, with the outbreak of World War I, it prospered through the sale of explosives to the Allies. The entire city benefited from the European conflict; Wilmington industries produced not only explosives but ships, railroad cars, iron, and leather, all needed to support the war effort. By the end of the war, the city's population exceeded 100,000, and Wilmington enjoyed prosperity so remarkable that a local paper ran a full-page advertisement declaring Wilmington to be the wealthiest city per capita in America.
None of the factors alone, however, is sufficient to explain the impulse that brought together the seven men who gathered at Irénée du Pont’s home on Rising Sun Lane that rainy Thursday evening in January 1919. As early as 1916, Alfred I. du Pont had commented publicly about the need for educational reform in Delaware, bemoaning the sad condition of the state's school buildings and the high rate of illiteracy among Delaware school children. In 1918, a scathing report characterized the state's public education as marked by poorly paid teachers, low rates of school attendance, and decrepit schools and equipment.
In response to these appalling circumstances, the du Pont family expressed its dedication to education in terms both public and private. In 1919, Pierre S. du Pont initiated what would become a lifelong effort to improve Delaware's public schools. Simultaneously, his younger brothers, Irénée and Lammot launched an endeavor to provide a model private school for Wilmington. Before the month was out, four more men, at invitation, joined the seven who attended the initial meeting. The eleven founders were assembled.
Irénée and Lammot brought into the undertaking cousins, A. Felix du Pont and Eugene E. du Pont; brothers-in-law, William Winder Laird, Hugh Rodney Sharp, and R. R. M. Carpenter; Carpenter's brother, Walter S. Carpenter, Jr.; and three distinguished colleagues,Charles Marshall Barton, Dr. Albert Robin, and "Judge"Josiah Marvel. The men met as founders twice more and then, legally incorporated as the Tower Hill School Association on 27 February 1919, they convened in a dual capacity, as members of the association and as the Board of Trustees charged with the responsibility of guiding the school during its first months and years.