Grace, W. R., and Company

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Grace, W. R., and Company

W. R. Grace and Company, a major U.S. industrial company that played an influential role in the history of Latin America from the 1850s to the 1950s. It was the first multinational in Latin America, and through its multifaceted commercial and industrial activities was long associated with the development and modernization of the region, but, by contrast, its critics linked it with the negative concomitants of imperialism and capitalism, such as exploitation of nonrenewable resources, creation of enclave economies, preferential treatment of foreigners, repatriation of profits, interference in host country politics, and numerous other activities they considered detrimental in the economic development of a region.

The company was founded in 1854 by a young Irish immigrant to Peru. William Russell Grace began working in the booming business of exporting guano from Peru to North America and Europe and then branched out into other aspects of the growing trade between the west coast of South America and the United States. He moved the headquarters of his fledgling company to New York City after the Civil War, but kept his connections with South America close and dependable by bringing in brothers, cousins, and other relatives to operate Grace trading houses in Valparaiso, Callao, and other South American ports and cities.

By the early twentieth century, W. R. Grace was the major presence in trade and commerce between North America and South America. The first steamship line between the Americas, the Grace Line, dominated shipping between New York City and South America, and the company diversified into activities as varied as owning and operating sugar plantations in Peru, buying and marketing tin from Bolivia, mining nitrates in Chile, financing railroads in Ecuador, and operating Panagra, the premier air carrier between the Americas from the 1930s to the 1950s. In the 1950s the company decided to focus its investments on the U.S. chemical industry and divested itself of its Latin American interests. By the 1970s the company that was known as Casa Grace along the west coast of South America no longer had any significant Latin American presence.

See alsoImperialism .


Jonathan V. Levin, The Export Economies: Their Pattern of Development in Historical Perspective (1960).

Mira Wilkins, The Maturing of Multinational Enterprise: American Business Abroad from 1914 to 1970 (1974).

Lawrence A. Clayton, Grace: W. R. Grace & Co.: The Formative Years, 1850–1930 (1985).

Marquis James, Merchant Adventurer: The Story of W. R. Grace (1993).

Additional Bibliography

O'Brien, Thomas F. The Revolutionary Mission: American Enterprise in Latin America, 1900–1945. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

                                  Lawrence A. Clayton