Abstract: When Business Systems Collide: Alcoa and the International Aluminum Cartel in the Interwar Period

Espen Storli


The antitrust case against Alcoa is one of the classic lawsuits in American history. Known as the largest proceeding in the history of Anglo-American law, it also supplied a landmark decision that changed the whole focus of the U.S. antitrust laws for decades. One of the key issues in the case was whether or not the company had conspired with the international aluminum cartel to control the U.S. market in the interwar period. Alcoa was exonerated in the courts, but later literature argued that the company probably had indeed systematically and illegally conspired with the cartel. However, just like the prosecutors, this literature is based on hearsay testimony. This paper is based on access to source material created by the European participants in the interwar cartel, and it attempts to get closer to answering the question about the relationship between the American aluminum producer and its European counterparts in the interwar period. In addition, the article makes a first attempt to compare Alcoa's relations with international cartels with the policies that other large U.S. multinationals pursued in relation to foreign competitors in the period. This discussion is inspired by the "varieties of capitalism" literature.