The Story of the Menominee River Sugar Company 1903-1955

April 22nd, 2022 by admin Leave a reply »

Menominee, Michigan, situated far from the world’s financial centers a hundred years ago, much as it is today, nevertheless placed itself directly in the middle of one of the hottest business booms of the early twentieth century – sugar. The small community that dared to plant a footprint in world commerce occupies a slivered point of land that dips into Lake Michigan at a point so close in proximity to Wisconsin that had a cartographer’s finger twitched at a crucial moment, Menominee would be in Wisconsin instead of Michigan.

Menominee is bordered on the east by Green Bay, an arm of Lake Michigan, and on the south-west by the Menominee River. In 1903, many investors in the beet sugar industry had a timber background and had thus come to believe that the same rivers that had once delivered logs to sawmills in abundance could also serve the needs of a beet sugar factory where massive volumes of water are used for fluming beets into the factory, washing them and then diffusing the sugar from them. A sugar factory could easily put three million gallons of water to use every twenty-four hours. Barges can carry sugarbeets from the farm fields and freighters can carry products to market. The presence of the Menominee River convinced investors that Menominee could compete with the nation’s sugar producers despite negative comments from naysayers who said Menominee was too far north to successfully grow sugarbeets.

The naysayers had a point. Menominee, Michigan is an unlikely place to construct a beet sugar factory. Situated at the western end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the growing season is about forty days shorter than the prime beet growing regions in the state’s Lower Peninsula. The short season can prevent the ripening of beets which will then lessen sugar content of immature beets ill prepared for the stress of the milling process. Severe frosts in early spring are not unusual and are almost always fatal to a crop of young beets.

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