Dowager Empress

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In a fashionable Paris hotel last week, a lonely and ailing old woman took up the scepter of one of the world's greatest industrial empires. Seventyish Albina Rodriguez Patino, widow of Bolivian Tin King Simon Patino, succeeded him as president of the Patino Mines & Enterprises Consolidated (Inc.), which controls 35% of the world's current tin supply.

As Albina Patino and her children control 80% of the stock, she had, in effect, elected herself. But few would dispute her qualifications. When the door of the blue marble tomb at Cochabamba, Bolivia, clanged shut last May on the mortal remains of her 84-year-old husband, there was no one left alive who knew as much as she about the building of the empire. She had had as big a share as Simon in creating it.

Fool's Silver. Albina Rodriguez had shocked her family and friends by marrying Simon Patino, son of a Spanish-Indian cobbler. Simon, the underpaid clerk of a German merchant, promptly got fired and had to make good on a $250 credit he had advanced to a prospector who had found, not silver, but "worthless" tin in the Andes.

It was Albina who insisted that they go up in the mountains and work the claim, which had reverted to Simon. She tended the llama-dung fire, melted the snow for drinking water, and prodded Simon on when he tired of hacking away at the mountainside. When he finally struck the rich lode that became the fabulous La Salvadora mine, she helped load the sacks with ore, bring it down on llama-back, and grind it on a millstone.

It was their luck to find the rich mine just when European supplies of tin were running out. Soon Bolivia was overrun with tin-hunters. When Simon foolishly agreed to sign away the mine for $350,000, iron-willed Albina knocked the pen from his hand.

She prodded him on to parlay their strike into a billion-dollar network of mines and banks that dominated the economy of Bolivia and reached into British and German smelters and Malayan mines. But even a Croesus' fortune could not get Simon into Cochabamba's exclusive Spaniards' Club Social.

Enraged and embittered, the Patinos left Bolivia in 1924, from that time on directed the empire from their Paris mansion, Nice chateau, villa at Biarritz or their yacht.

Widow's Mite. As the dowager empress of tin, Albina will not have as easy a time as her ruthless husband in his heyday. Through the world cartel he created with the British and Dutch (in 1930), he could squeeze the Unless, smelterless U.S. (which normally consumes more than half of world tin production). But in World War II, when Simon was too friendly with the Nazis for British comfort, the cartel came apart. Alarmed, Patino tried to get back into U.S. good graces. Later, Chase National Bank's Vice President Joseph C. Rovensky became chairman of his board.

Now the U.S. hopes to keep the world cartel from reforming. Moreover, since the richer Malayan mines can turn out better ore at lower cost than Bolivia, Albina has no assurance that the British would want it. But the U.S. is in no position to fight tin producers.

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