James Lerner


Course of Action by  James Lerner

Dramatic story about tungsten carbide: GE-Krupp conspiracy
Hamiltonpdx.com, article by Nanci Hamilton, April 28, 2013

As the daughter of tungsten carbide manufacturer and metallurgist, Daniel J. Leech, I found this article about the GE-Krupp Conspiracy Trial of 1947 fascinating, which is based almost entirely on a lengthy exerpt from the memoir Course of Action by James Lerner, published posthumously. Even though manufacturing tungsten carbide was and is the family business, I was unaware of the central role it played in an important but largely unreported (or at best, under-reported) drama in the 1940s.

Lerner's account is first-hand; he was one of the very few non-participants to attend the entire trial. It details how General Electric and the German company Krupp Aktiengesellschaft, who each held valuable patents for tungsten carbide in their respective countries, worked together beginning in the late 1920s to control its production and sale worldwide. Krupp's enthusiasm for financing the rising career of Adolph Hilter was not an impediment to the arrangement with GE from either party's perspective. Before signing the agreement with Krupp, GE charged $48 a pound for carboloy, their trade name for tungsten carbide; after the agreement was reached, GE upped the price to $453 a pound.

GE's aggressive, monopolistic, and effective efforts to shut down any competition, including forced buy-outs, led to an American shortage of tungsten carbide during WWII. Germany, on the other hand, had an abundance of it, which they used to military advantage. Some of the most formidable German weapons, such as the Panserbüchse and Panzerabwehrkanone anti-tank guns, lobbed tungsten carbide projectiles.

When the war was behind them, the US Government prosecuted GE for conspiring to maintain a worldwide monopoly in the production and sale of tungsten carbide and the government prevailed. Their case, based on internal documents from both GE and Krupp and testimony from numerous industrial and patent experts as well as former competitors, was indisputable. GE was forced to admit as much through their attorneys.

The GE-Krupp story meshes elements of the tension between labor and corporations, the dynamics of small business and larger competitors, patent manipulation, engineering, Nazism, war, national and international politics, and human nature. Gripping reading.


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