W.R. Grace

Oil Painting by Charles Robert Patterson

Original content by: Dr. Paul Goodwin

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

This oil painting of the ship W.R. Grace (named after William Russell Grace of W.R. Grace & Co.) by the renowned "sailor-painter" Charles Robert Patterson (1878-1958), depicts the vessel leaving the coast of California in the late 1800s.  Displayed in her signal flags, you can see her code name, "JNHS".  The W.R. Grace was built in the shipyard of Flint & Chapman, Bath, Maine, in 1873, and was used primarily in the New York to California run, which took her around Cape Horn a dozen times.  She was wrecked in 1889 off Delaware, the victim of a hurricane.

Patterson painted the ship for the Grace passenger liner Santa Paula in 1931.  His accurate rendering of sailing vessels placed him in the foremost ranks of maritime artists.  A professional sailor for a decade (including travel around Cape Horn), he possessed an intimate knowledge of square riggers.

W.R. Grace & Co. was established in Peru in 1854.  William Russell Grace initially contracted with the Peruvian governement to ferry supplies to guano workers on the Chincha islands, as well as carry the noxious cargo to the United States.  It was not long before W.R. Grace & Co. expanded to become a powerful global enterprise.  In 1860, Grace established a merchant steamship line to serve the Americas.  In 1865, the company initiated a triangular trade with South America and Europe.  From the 1870s, Grace vessels carried Peruvian sugar and from the 1880s, Chilean nitrates (used as a fertilizer and an explosive) to the United States.  Regular steamer service between New York and the west coast of South America began in 1890.  In later years, the company diversified into passenger liner service (of which Santa Paula was a member of), airlines (PANAGRA - Pan American Grace), and chemical companies.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. Why do you think the Grace family's goal of starting an Irish agricultural center in Peru failed, but the trade business thrived?
  2. Was the company a factor in the modernization (infrastructure, economic growth) of Peru? Was modernization accompanied by human misery (guano workers, exploitation of Chinese)? Compare this to the costs and benefits of the Industrial Revolution.
  3. How might Grace's knowledge of South America and its people have contributed to his business success?