How New York Ate 100 Years Ago

Excerpted from the Encyclopedia of New York City, Edited by Kenneth T. Jackson, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, the New-York Historical Society, New York
"The first sugar refinery in New York City was opened on Liberty Street in 1730 by Nicholas Bayard. Most raw sugar was imported to the colonies from overseas and the city was soon a center of sugar refining largely because of the port and the high local demand for sugar. The industry attracted such prominent families as the Livingstons, the Bayards, the Cuylers, the Roosevelts, the Stewarts, and the Van Cortlandts... William Havemeyer, and Frederick C. Havemeyer... opened the 1805 on Vandam Street.

"In 1857 they helped to form Havemeyer, Townsend and Company on South 3rd Street in Williamsburg, where undeveloped land, a deep-water harbor, and abundant cheap labor soon attracted other refineries. After the sugar industry in the Gulf states was destroyed during the Civil War, sugar refining became concentrated in the city, where the port had become the largest in the country, the transportation system was extensive, and banks were numerous. Sugar refining was the city's most profitable manufacturing industry from 1870 until the First World War; 59 percent of the country's imported raw sugar was processed there in 1872 and 68 percent by 1887.

"...Because of intense competition refineries in the city tried to fix prices in 1882. Their failure to do so led Henry O. Havemeyer in 1887 to form the Sugar Refineries Company (known as the Sugar Trust) to control the price of sugar and the labor pool. The trust consolidated most of the major refineries in Brooklyn.... After being ruled illegal in 1891 by the state supreme court the trust was reorganized by Havemeyer, who incorporated the American Sugar Refining Company in New Jersey and retained headquarters in the City on Wall Street.

"In 1900 Havemeyer eliminated the little remaining competition in the region by consolidating the surviving refineries in the city into the National Sugar Refining Company of New Jersey. The American Sugar Refining Company was the most important firm of the Sugar Trust, and the loose network of companies controlled by the Havemeyers dominated ... American Sugar, accounting directly and indirectly for 98 percent of the national production by 1907. From that year, the American Sugar Company engaged in a protracted legal battle with the federal government over its control of the trust, during which its share of the cane market fell from 53 percent to 32 percent.

"The struggle ended with a settlement in 1922 that allowed the firm to remain intact but forced it to refrain from unfair business practices, and as competition revived, the firm ceased to dominate the industry. After the Depression the sugar refining industry declined in the city as alternatives to sugar and modern technology were introduced."

– James Bradley