Lever Brothers in North America

13 02 2013

Warning: Self-Promotion Alert

The journal Business History has just published an article I wrote: A successful British MNE in the backyard of American big business: Explaining the performance of the American and Canadian subsidiaries of Lever Brothers 1888–1914 See here.

Ad for Sunlight Soap, 1915.


By the 1880s, Lever Brothers, an ancestor of today’s Unilever, was had emerged as a major player in the British soap industry. Its brands, such as Sunlight, could be found in all parts of the United Kingdom. The firm then decided to become a multinational. After 1888, Lever Brothers expanded into the United States and Canada. The surviving archival evidence suggests that the Canadian subsidiary was more successful than the American one in the period before 1914 (after that point the US operation became very successful . My article tries to explain why this was the case. It considers a number of factors that help to explain why this was the case. Some of the factors considered, such as differences between the Canadian and American tariffs, Canada’s more robust system of trademark protection, and differences in anti-trust law in the two North American countries. These are all themes very familiar to business historians. I also draw on the literature on identity economics and argues that the greater success enjoyed by Lever Brothers in Canada was, in part, rooted in Canada’s strongly British identity. The impact of identities on the policy makers, managers, and consumers who collectively shaped the two North American subsidiaries is assessed.