Poisoned Partnership: The International Mercury Cartel and Spanish-Italian Relations, 1945-1954

P. Del Hierro, E. Storli*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article investigates the development of the Spanish-Italian mercury cartel from the end of World War II to the mid-1950s. Previous literature has singled out the cartel as one of the most robust international cartels of the twentieth century, but as this article shows, the cartel broke down toward the end of the 1940s, and although briefly reestablished in 1954, it quickly dissolved again. Building on access to original source material from archives in Spain, Italy, the United States, and United Kingdom, we investigate the underlying reasons why the cartel broke down, and how and why it was eventually reestablished. Because both the main Italian and the Spanish mercury producers were state-owned, this article pays special attention to the influence of the political relations between Spain and Italy on the development of the cartel. The study of the mercury cartel is used as a prism to investigate the point where industry strategies meet government strategies. This article thus contributes to two major strands of literature, both to the business history literature on international cartels in the post-1945 world and to the diplomatic history literature on the intricate relationship between Spain and Italy in the early phase of the Cold War.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1467222721000021
Pages (from-to)825-856
Number of pages32
JournalEnterprise & Society
Issue number3
Early online date3 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022


  • business-government relations
  • cartels
  • natural resources


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