Wed. May 18th, 2022

Menominee, Michigan, located removed from the world’s monetary facilities 100 years in the past, a lot as it’s at present, however positioned itself instantly in the midst of one of many hottest enterprise booms of the early twentieth century – sugar. The small group that dared to plant a footprint in world commerce occupies a slivered level of land that dips into Lake Michigan at some extent so shut in proximity to Wisconsin that had a cartographer’s finger twitched at a vital second, Menominee can be in Wisconsin as an alternative of Michigan.

Menominee is bordered on the east by Inexperienced Bay, an arm of Lake Michigan, and on the south-west by the Menominee River. In 1903, many traders within the beet sugar business had a timber background and had thus come to consider that the identical rivers that had as soon as delivered logs to sawmills in abundance might additionally serve the wants of a beet sugar manufacturing unit the place large volumes of water are used for fluming beets into the manufacturing unit, washing them after which diffusing the sugar from them. A sugar manufacturing unit might simply put three million gallons of water to make use of each twenty-four hours. Barges can carry sugarbeets from the farm fields and freighters can carry merchandise to market. The presence of the Menominee River satisfied traders that Menominee might compete with the nation’s sugar producers regardless of detrimental feedback from naysayers who stated Menominee was too far north to efficiently develop sugarbeets.

The naysayers had some extent. Menominee, Michigan is an unlikely place to assemble a beet sugar manufacturing unit. Located on the western finish of Michigan’s Higher Peninsula, the rising season is about forty days shorter than the prime beet rising areas within the state’s Decrease Peninsula. The quick season can stop the ripening of beets which can then reduce sugar content material of immature beets in poor health ready for the stress of the milling course of. Extreme frosts in early spring usually are not uncommon and are nearly all the time deadly to a crop of younger beets. Frosts can come early within the fall, too, which may make it not possible to reap a crop. A farmer stood to lose his total crop both early within the rising season or close to the time of harvest after he had invested closely in bringing the sugarbeet crop to time period. Buyers, nonetheless, in Menominee, as in a lot of Michigan’s cities, tended to low cost enter from farmers earlier than constructing a manufacturing unit and would continuously interpret exaggerated enthusiasm from a handful of growers as representing the broader farming group. Very often, as in Menominee’s case, as it will end up, the handful didn’t characterize the entire.

Official recognition by the USA Division of Agriculture in 1898 of the significance of the sugarbeet business sparked the development of beet sugar factories throughout the nation. One yr earlier the nation might boast solely ten beet sugar factories, 4 of which have been in California, one in Utah, two in Nebraska and three in New York. The development of seven sugarbeet factories in 1898 introduced into focus for the primary time the stirrings of a rush not not like the dot-com increase that blossomed almost 100 years later. The concept that sugar produced from sugarbeets might compete with sugar produced from sugarcane expanded right into a full-fledged increase by 1900 when the nationwide rely of sugarbeet factories stood at thirty-two in eleven states.

Nowhere was the blaze hotter than in Michigan the place 9 factories adopted the profitable begin up of a manufacturing unit in Essexville, Michigan, a suburb of Bay Metropolis. A burst of cyclonic enthusiasm precipitated a mad scramble when traders, constructors, bankers, and farmers mixed energies and expertise to convey to life eight factories in a single yr! They have been in Holland, Kalamazoo, Rochester, Benton Harbor, Alma, West Bay Metropolis, Caro, and a second manufacturing unit in Essexville. Regardless of the paucity of manufacturing unit constructors and the engineers to function them, fourteen extra factories rose on the outskirts of Michigan cities through the subsequent six years, one in every of which appeared in Menominee in 1903.

In Menominee, a bunch of traders undeterred by the pure disadvantages and buoyed by encouragement from influential traders and educated consultants, set a plan in movement to keep up the financial viability of their metropolis after the approaching demise of the lumber business, which had till then offered the underpinnings of Menominee’s economic system. The plan included the design of one of many largest and most trendy sugarbeet factories to seem in America as much as that point.

Because the lumber period petered out originally of the twentieth century, railroads that had come into their very own due to timber, sought new sources of income. Principal amongst them was the Detroit and Mackinac Railroad whose land agent, Charles M. Garrison, collected and distributed details about the potential of the sugarbeet business. Whereas Garrison unfold phrase amongst Detroit’s financiers about potential earnings in sugarbeets, communities affected by the decline of lumber seemed to space sources for methods of replenishing wealth. They’d a lot to work with. The state was crisscrossed with rail strains and rivers and a few left over money from the lumber period. With Garrison main the best way, traders perked up. Communities desirous to discover a fast alternative for lumber hastened to attend conferences sponsored by Garrison and faster but to convey their cities into the fold. All that was wanted was to influence the farmers to develop the beets. That’s the place the Michigan Agricultural Faculty (Now Michigan State College) stepped in.

Higher Peninsula farmers, inspired by Michigan Agricultural Faculty to plant sugarbeet take a look at plots, obtained a fair better shot within the arm by the go to of Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson, in 1902. He expounded the benefits of sugarbeets and discouraged the notion that the Higher Peninsula’s local weather wasn’t as much as the duty of manufacturing worthwhile crops. Wilson served in three presidential cupboards, McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft, serving longer (1897-1913) than some other cupboard official. He inspired trendy agriculture strategies, together with transportation and schooling as they utilized to agriculture. His phrase carried a variety of weight. When he spoke of sugarbeets, some farmers listened and when his division avowed that the chilly northern temperatures wouldn’t inhibit the event of the business of their neighborhood, traders, farmers, and producers lined as much as start the business in Menominee.

Optimism rose to new heights when the USA Division of Agriculture (USDA) introduced favorable outcomes of the sugarbeet plot assessments. The Sugar Beet Information of December 15, 1903, reported take a look at outcomes from beets delivered by roughly 140 farmers. The take a look at runs revealed 15.6 to 19.9 % sugar, which meant a money worth to the farmers per acre of from $5.70 to $7.13 per ton ($135-$169 inflation adjusted to the present interval). At these projected costs, no crop in human historical past had held the potential for creating such a excessive return from so few acres.

Within the Decrease Peninsula, a farmer with above common potential who positioned fifteen acres in sugarbeets might earn greater than $800 and if his household offered the majority of the labor, the web revenue would greater than handle a household’s wants for a yr, which, together with meals, was lower than $800. After including income from crops in rotation and revenues from milk, eggs, and poultry, the farm household’s lifestyle superior from a subsistence degree to at least one that in contrast favorably to those that held mid-management positions in business. USDA figures supported perception that Higher Peninsula beets would exceed by two per cent the typical for all the opposite 18 sugar beet factories within the Decrease Peninsula.

If the assessments proved dependable indicators, Menominee area beets have been price as much as $10 extra an acre than Decrease Peninsula beets, assuring an revenue of almost $1,000 per yr simply from sugarbeets.

Though enthusiasm was on the upturn, one thing extra was wanted to seal the deal. To instill confidence in potential traders that technical experience lay close to at hand, Benjamin Boutell, who received fame as each a tugboat captain and as a captain of business, arrived in Menominee from his Bay Metropolis, Michigan headquarters for the one goal of conveying traders to Bay County the place they may see groomed beet fields and environment friendly factories spinning out white crystalline sugar. Eleven potential traders accompanied Boutell to Bay Metropolis the place convincing proof lay at hand. 4 beet sugar factories, greater than in some other metropolis in the USA, had been constructed in that metropolis’s environs. Bay Metropolis just about hummed with financial exercise due to the presence of sugar factories. Mansions peopled by former lumber barons who had reworked themselves into sugar barons, lined town’s prestigious Middle Avenue.

Boutell introduced he would turn into one of many traders, offering the opposite traders had no objection to having a manufacturing unit designed and put in by Joseph Kilby who was based on Boutell, the best constructor of beet sugar factories in the USA. Many others agreed with Boutell’s evaluation; Kilby constructed 9 of the eventual twenty-four factories in-built Michigan. Native traders lined up behind Boutell to arrange the Menominee River Sugar Firm. A half dozen essential backers got here ahead, every of whom subscribed to greater than $25,000 in inventory of the Menominee River Sugar Firm.

Heading up the record of native shareholders was Samuel M. Stephenson, a former lumber producer and native of New Brunswick, Canada who had made a house for himself, his spouse, Jennie and their 4 daughters and one son, in Menominee. He was then seventy-one years of age however in no temper for retirement. Following a profitable profession in lumber and banking, he served three successive phrases in Congress (Michigan’s eleventh District 1889-93 and the twelfth District 1893-97). He invested $100,000 ($2 million by trendy requirements) within the beet sugar manufacturing unit, taking coronary heart in not solely favorable take a look at plot outcomes and the passion of his neighbors but additionally curiosity proven by the American Sugar Refining Company, typically identified by its then in style sobriquet, the Sugar Belief. Some years later the Sugar Belief would fall into disfavor because of costs of unfair enterprise practices, however in 1903, it had the arrogance of most people and traders alike and managed the manufacture and sale of 98% of sugar consumed in the USA. Belief Executives, Arthur Donner and Charles R. Heike, invested $300,000 to amass 36% of Menominee River Sugar Firm’s inventory.

All of the members of the board of administrators and roster of officers aside from Bay Metropolis resident, Benjamin Boutell, listed Menominee as their residence of report. Menominee residents made up 74% of the shareholders. Collectively, they managed 53% of the shares. Along with Stephenson, different main shareholders who additionally accepted positions as both officers or administrators have been: William O. Carpenter who invested $55,000 and served the sugar firm variously as president and vice-president. Gustave A. Blesch invested $15,000 and served as treasurer. John Henes, a brewery proprietor, invested $25,000 and served as a director. Augustus Spies was the second largest investor after Stephenson and the Sugar Belief. He, too, served as a director.

Spies present a superb instance of the hardy pioneering spirit that prevailed in Menominee. He was a local of the grand duchy of Hessen-Darmstadt, Germany the place fertile soils and a gentle local weather allowed the manufacturing of grain and wine. He participated within the founding of the Stephenson Nationwide Financial institution in partnership with future U.S. Congressman Samuel M. Stephenson and Samuel’s brother, future U.S. Senator, Isaac Stephenson. As well as, he owned the Spies Lumber Firm and a number of other massive tracts of forest; he was an investor within the First Nationwide Financial institution of Menominee, the Marinette and Menominee Paper Firm and president of the Menominee Mild, Railroad and Energy Firm. When the fledgling sugar firm obtained beneath approach, he stepped ahead with $75,000 ($1.5 million in present {dollars}).

Help from Menominee’s rich class, who additionally shared distinctions of constructing good enterprise selections and rising on their very own benefit reasonably than inherited wealth, was so nice that there was no have to solicit funds from the general public at massive. With its shares over-subscribed by $35,000, the Menominee River Sugar Firm was within the enviable place of getting ample capital for its enterprise. Not solely was it possessed of adequate capital but additionally it loved the additional advantage of the expertise of Benjamin Boutell and representatives of the Sugar Belief. Menominee wouldn’t need for technical or enterprise experience.

Gustave Blesch, like Augustus Spies, owed his success to the inherited qualities of arduous work, honesty and the respect of his friends. He would turn into the sugar firm’s first treasurer. He was born in Inexperienced Bay, Wisconsin in 1859, the son of Francis Blesch, a local of Germany and Antoinette Schneider, a local of Belgium. Gustave grew to become an workplace boy within the Kellogg Nationwide Financial institution of Inexperienced Bay, rising to teller by the age of twenty. 5 years later, he moved to Menominee to assist set up the First Nationwide Financial institution of Menominee the place he started as cashier earlier than changing into the financial institution’s president. He grew to become president of the Menominee Brick Firm, vice-president of the Menominee-Marinette Mild & Traction Firm, and treasurer of the Peninsula Land Firm.

In January, 1903, the newly elected board of administrators accepted an $800,000 (almost $19 million in present period {dollars}) development contract for a Kilby designed and constructed manufacturing unit that might slice 1,000 tons of beets per day. Of the 48 beet sugar factories in operation in the USA in 1903, solely two have been bigger than Menominee’s new manufacturing unit, one in Salinas, California and one other in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The common sugar manufacturing unit in Michigan in 1903 might slice 600 tons of beets in a twenty-four hour interval. 4 thousand acres of beets would simply provide a season’s manufacturing unit run. Had the traders surveyed the farmers first, certainly they might have been suggested to construct a smaller manufacturing unit, and maybe would have been persuaded to construct none. Farmers delivered beets from roughly 1,500 acres, properly in need of the 9,000 acres the funding demanded.

The Menominee manufacturing unit’s first manufacturing unit run (known as a “marketing campaign” within the sugar business) ended rapidly, having obtained solely 14,263 tons, sufficient for a manufacturing run of fourteen days for a manufacturing unit the traders deliberate to function not less than 100 days. Nevertheless, the farmers had submitted beets containing the very best sugar reported of any firm throughout its first marketing campaign, 15.04 p.c – about 20 p.c greater than common and sufficient to permit for a small revenue from a meager beet provide. Like almost all of the factories, information that might inform us of revenue, if any, earned throughout that first marketing campaign, didn’t survive the passage of time. Nevertheless, it will be affordable to estimate, primarily based on the identified price of provides of coal, coke, limestone and the price of labor, {that a} revenue of $36,000 was achievable, particularly beneath a administration model that paid shut consideration to expenditures and particularly in gentle of the very excessive share of sugar within the beets.

The second marketing campaign was higher with sufficient beets for a full month, nonetheless properly in need of a provide wanted to generate earnings sufficient to justify the funding. By 1911, the native provide reached a degree that allowed regular earnings however was inadequate to encourage growth, a situation that persevered till 1926 when grower apathy fell to a degree that required closing the manufacturing unit till 1933 when it reopened for a last run of twenty years throughout which the manufacturing unit lagged behind the business in know-how and development. Yr in and yr out, due to an insufficient provide of beets, largely grown in Wisconsin, the underutilized manufacturing unit ended its marketing campaign weeks sooner than was wanted to supply wholesome earnings which then might have been reinvested within the manufacturing unit. Menominee traders realized, as did many different sugar manufacturing unit traders, that the mantra, “construct it and they’re going to come” fell on deaf ears amongst farmers who usually displayed a greater understanding of sugar economics than did traders.

The passage of time introduced neither hurt nor good to the Menominee manufacturing unit because it was unable to develop or modernize. It settled into the method of swish getting older. Earnings awaiting alternative steadily gathered because of the corporate’s penurious administration model and a devoted cadre of farmers.

George W. McCormick, the corporate’s first supervisor, inaugurated a cautious administration model that went a great distance towards maintaining the corporate worthwhile regardless of annual shortfalls within the beet provide. He managed the corporate throughout its first thirty-two years of operation, starting when he was twenty-four years of age. He met Benjamin Boutell in Bay Metropolis when he moved there to take a job as a district supervisor for Vacationers Insurance coverage Firm. Boutell thought the younger man belonged within the quickly creating sugar business and inspired him to assist in the institution of a sugar manufacturing unit in Wallaceburg, Ontario. After finishing the project with success, Boutell beneficial him for the supervisor’s job in Menominee.

Menominee was essentially the most tough place in the USA to course of sugarbeets. The low temperatures took a heavy toll on employees, equipment and beets that normally went via the slicing machines like boulders, damaging tools that robbed the manufacturing unit of slender sources. It was tough to search out alternative elements due to the space separating Menominee from suppliers and from Decrease Peninsula sugar factories the place it was frequent for manufacturing unit managers to lend spare elements to at least one one other.

The corporate’s diligent consideration to price management paid off in 1924 when sugar factories positioned in Inexperienced Bay and Menominee Falls, Wisconsin went in the marketplace. Menominee River Sugar Firm bought each after which invested important sums in restoring the Menominee Falls manufacturing unit that had been shut for 3 years instantly previous its sale.

The renovated Menominee Falls manufacturing unit mixed with the Inexperienced Bay and Menominee, Michigan factories created extra capability than was wanted for the obtainable acreage. One of many factories must shut. Menominee received the noose after the accountants counted up the freight prices for hauling beets to every manufacturing unit. The Menominee manufacturing unit remained closed till 1933 when Michigan’s farmers relented and agreed to return to sugarbeets, a choice that got here too late to avoid wasting the hides of the sugar firm’s homeowners who had misplaced the corporate to defaulted bonds three years earlier.

Disruptions in Europe starting within the early a part of the Thirties introduced a brand new title to Michigan’s beet sugar fields and company workplaces – Flegenheimer. Albert Flegenheimer was the son of Samuel Flegenheimer who had immigrated to the USA in both 1864 or 1866 and have become a naturalized citizen in 1873. The following yr, nonetheless, he returned to Germany, settling in Wurttemberg. He lived out his life there, dying in 1929 on the age of 81. His temporary sojourn in the USA and his U.S. citizenship standing, nonetheless, would in the future save his descendants from German dying camps.

In February 1939, Albert Flegenheimer carried his household to the security of Canada after which to the U.S. claiming nationality because the son of a naturalized citizen. He deliberate to lift his household and dedicate his time to the sugar business in each the USA and Canada. His plans met with appreciable success and by 1954, he managed the sugar manufacturing unit in Menominee and the one in Inexperienced Bay, Wisconsin.

Regardless of Albert Flegenheimer’s efforts, an absence of curiosity on the a part of farmers stored the manufacturing unit small and outdated. It struggled yr by yr till lastly in 1955 with its tools exhausted, its buildings in tattered restore and its farmers pursuing different crops, Menominee River Sugar Firm, constructed on hopes and goals and operated with fortitude and persistence for greater than a half-century, closed its doorways perpetually.


GUTLEBEN, Dan, The Sugar Tramp-1954- Michigan, Printed by: Bay Metropolis Duplicating Co, San Francisco, 1954

1962 TWIN CITY COMMUNITY RESOURCES WORKSHOP, part entitled Well-known Leaders Who Helped Construct Menominee, ready by Irene Swain, Dr. Leo J. Alilunas, Director.

HENLEY, ROBERT L., Candy Success . . .The Story of Michigan’s Beet Sugar Business 1898 – 1974, Michigan Historic Middle, Division of Historical past, Arts and Libraries

INFLATION ADJUSTMENTS: The pre-1975 information are the Client Worth Index statistics from Historic Statistics of the USA (USGPO, 1975). All information since then are from the annual Statistical Abstracts of the USA. Recorded at

MICHIGAN ANNUAL REPORTS, Michigan Archives, Lansing, Michigan
©2009 Thomas Mahar

In regards to the Creator:
Thomas Mahar served as Govt Vice President of Monitor Sugar Firm between 1984 and 1999 and as President of Gala Meals Processing, a sugar packaging firm, from 1993-1998. He retired in 1999 and now devotes his free time to writing concerning the historical past of the sugar business. He authored, Candy Vitality, The Story of Monitor Sugar Firm in 2001.

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