Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sugar Beet Manufacturing in Utah and Idaho

I wrote this brief history as a note to my mom's history which I transcribed for her a couple years ago. 

The first sugar from the Utah Sugar Company was processed at the Lehi factory in 1891.  This came after a failed experiment with sugar manufacturing in Sugar House in Salt Lake City several years prior.  The Lehi factory was the fourth sugar beet factory in the United States.  "The Lehi factory was the first beet sugar factory int he world to utilize beets grown by irrigation, the first to have a systematic program for the production of its own beet seed, the first to use American-made machinery, and the first to build ancillary cutting stations. " (Arrington p 182)

The Mormon Church was highly invested and involved in the sugar industry.  They were looking for a stable industry where their population could be employed.  President Wilford Woodruff attended the laying of the cornerstone for the Lehi factory:  "I want to say to all Israel that we believe it right to dedicate everything we engage unto the Lord.  We have assembled today to lay this cornerstone, as is our custom in establishing all our temples.  I want you all to unite on the subject of sugar.  There is not a question of public improvement which is of more value or has better prospects than sugar.  God bless you."  (as quoted in Arrington p 10)

Sugar was processed at Lehi from 1891 to 1924:  "The demise of the Lehi Sugar Factory was ultimately caused by two beet maladies: nematodes (round worms) and "curly top" from white fly infection.  Farmers did not plant sufficient acreage in this area to sustain the factory and it closed after the 1924 campaign although beets continued to be grown locally and processed at other factories until the 1960s."  (Lehi)

After the closing of the Lehi factory, local beets were processed in Spanish Fork which became operational in 1916.  Before that time it had been a cutting station for the Lehi factory (Arrington p 189)

The men from the Lehi factory became a valuable resource to the sugar industry:  "Lehi technicians learned their trade in "the school of hard knocks" and in the process acquired a special capacity to devise imaginative solutions to problems.  The emergent industry, as it expanded toward national stature, learned to rely on Lehi men.  A substantial number of the factories which were subsequently erected in the West and Midwest employed Lehi "alumni" for the know-how and experience they had acquired.  (Arrington p 38)

U&I Sugar was born from the merger of the Utah Sugar Company and the Idaho Sugar Company.  They had factories throughout the inter mountain states: Washington, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Nevada and South Dakota.  Of  course there were other sugar companies operating in the same  area, including  Amalgamated Sugar.  Major competition also came from cane sugar, C&H (California and Hawaii) Sugar and Cuban sugar.

At times the raising of sugar, and the marketing of sugar was controlled by tariffs and allotments.  This was to control the price of sugar.  I remember Dad (my father) saying that sugar beets was always a cash crop, but the acreage was controlled strictly by government regulations. (Wardle)

By the 1960s, sugar beet production was losing to that of cane.  The last U&I factories in operation were in Idaho Falls and Washington.  However these factories also closed in the 1970s. 

Bibliography:

Arrington, Leonard J. Beet Sugar in the West, University of Washington Press, 1966

Lehi Chapter of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers, Blue Bell Camp of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, Civic Improvement Association of Lehi  (Plaque at the site of the old Lehi Sugar Factory, picture taken by Charles Wardle)

Wardle, Billy, memories

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