myself,” William wrote, “I like the Peruvians I always
enjoyed their society & I never looked upon them as
more deceitful than [other] people….The English in
foreign lands, I never liked; they are, in my experience,
presumptuous & self-opinionated;…yet in England, I
have met very many pleasant good fellows, but I confess I
think the Peruvians are pleasanter company & more
kindly & benevolent in their character.”
paper is about how W. R. Grace & Co. adapted so well
to its host environment in Latin America for over a
century of successful business enterprise, especially Peru.
company was founded by an Irish immigrant to Peru, William
Russell Grace (183?-1904) in the 1850s. He went to Peru in
1854 with his father and a number of other Irish
immigrants who had been contracted to work in the country.
William soon branched out in his own endeavors, joining an
English firm in Peru, Bryce Brothers, in serving the
growing guano fleet as ship’s purveyors. From this
start, William laid the basis for the development of the
most successful trading company in Peru, W. R. Grace &
Co., that dominated trade and economic relations for a
hundred years until the late 1960s when the Peruvian
Revolution of 1968 and its own divestment policy brought
the company’s presence in Peru to an end.
the meantime, the legacy of “Casa Grace,” as it became
known among many generations of modern Peruvians, was
quite remarkable, based on policies established by its
founders who included a number of brothers, cousins,
nephews and other relatives William brought in to work
with him in the second half of the nineteenth century.
William’s business philosophy is summarized in part by
the epigraph above. He cultivated among his family and
“foreign” employees—largely Irish relatives in the
beginning but expanding to include other Europeans and
Americans as the company evolved—an attitude of respect
for and immersion in the culture and language of Peru. As
the company grew, first along other West Coast countries
of South America, then into other parts of Latin America
to include virtually all of the region by commerce and
trade, by investments in industries (mining, textiles,
sugar, paper, etc.) by the steamers of the Grace Line, or
the graceful airliners of Pan American Grace Airways
(Panagra) founded as a joint venture with Pan American in
the late 1920s, so did the tone for the company’s
“cultural” presence in Latin America.
was not an enclave economy, nor was W. R. Grace & Co.
targeted by nationalists in the twentieth century for the
sins long associated with aggressive European and North
American imperialism in the region. It developed a
distinct beat, and this paper will explore that theme.
There is no denying that it was, in fact, a very
aggressive competitor with sharp business acumen and a
nose for profits and expanding economies. In the same
breathe, in Peru it was “Casa Grace,” and by the
middle of the twentieth century most Peruvians thought of
it as a Peruvian company, whose headquarters happened to
be located on Hanover Square in downtown New York
this somewhat anomaly came into being will be the subject
of this presentation of an “Irish” house in Peru,
whose founder, William Russell Grace, also was elected as
the first foreign born mayor of New York City in 1880!