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Alma Sugar: 1901

Alma Sugar: 1901

Alma, Michigan, circa 1901. "Alma Sugar Co. factory." An early manifestation of the state's sugarbeet boom. 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Photographic Company. View full size.


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Alma Sugar Co.

This was one of the many businesses established by local entrepreneur and philanthropist Ammi Wright. The foundation was poured in March 1899 by D.J. Kennedy of Bay City, with construction by the Kilby Manufacturing Company of Cleveland. It began operation in October 1899 with a production capacity of 500 tons daily. The company was absorbed by American Sugar Refining in 1903, and in 1906 by Michigan Sugar of Bay City. By the mid-1950s production had ceased and the facility used for beet storage. In November 1961 Michigan Sugar sold the plant and its 44 acres to the Alma Industrial Development Corporation for use as an industrial park. Michigan Sugar Company, by the way, is still very much with us, the third largest beet processor in the country.

The smell of money

I lived in mid-Michigan for 35 years and remember beet season quite clearly.

After harvesting, the beets were trucked to Bay City for processing into sugar. Beet trucks were always overloaded and frequently lost a beet or two with every bump on the road. Since the beets were about the size and weight of a bocce ball, you quickly learned to avoid following a beet truck.

And once processing started, the plant emitted an awful stench that hung in the air for miles around.

Sweetness lingers

Either from the long summer grass or from the cookie factory just up yonder... beyond the tracks.

Sugar beets

Thank you J W. I had looked along the railroad tracks in Alma to see if I could spot a remnant of the sugar factory, but there was none to spot. Here's an aerial that aligns with your map. The buildings at the bottom are for Alma Products Co. and appear much newer than 1901.

The five story plant in the 1901 photo is interesting. I'm pretty sure the windows on the top floor are slightly taller than the windows on the two floors below it, which are noticeably taller than on the two floors below them. It's an interesting way to break up the monotony of such a large building and make it appear even taller than it is.

Listen up!

From the size of that plant steam whistle, I'll be you could hear if for miles.
Very neat property.

Sugar & the Groovy Backbeets

Though it predates my kids' births, they used to sing this song when I'd haul out my sugar bin to bake some treats, and then they'd end with "SUGAR!" using preschoolers' approximation of a man's voice.

Sesame Street "Sugar Beets"

How sweet it is!

Found it, Sanborn Fire Insurance Map 1902:

Sugar from Michigan?

I never heard of Michigan sugar, so I looked it up (of course!).

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