World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 30, June 2000

In this issue:

  1. Book Reviews
  2. Conference
  3. Request for Information

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 30, June 2000, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


Uwe Wallbaum, Die Rübenzuckerindustrie in Hannover: Zur Entstehung and Entwicklung eines landwirtschaftlich gebundenen Industriezweigs von den Anfängen bis zum Beginn des Ersten Weltkriegs, Beiträge zur Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte, no. 83 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1998). ISBN 3-515-07232-2.

Historians of the German economy have long recognized the connections between sugar beets and German industrialization. Like many aspects of German historiography, the literature has been rather Prussocentric, stressing the links between Prussian sugar barons and the German political economy. In his remarkably thorough and convincing study, Uwe Wallbaum adds a new and important dimension to this history: the overlooked beet sugar industry of Hanover in northwestern Germany.

Wallbaum begins with a survey of beet sugar’s origins in the German economy. When slave insurrections in the West Indies and Napoleonic-era blockades shut down the thriving sugar-refining businesses in Hamburg and elsewhere in northern Germany, Carl Achard and others led efforts to find alternative sources of sugar with European-grown crops. Napoleon and his German allies issued incentives for investors to grow and process sugar beets. A few beet sugar mills were established in Hanoverian lands in 1812 and 1813, though these early efforts soon closed due to poor crop yields and profits.

After 1815, when the Kingdom of Hanover emerged as the largest state in northwestern Germany, the sugar question revolved around the government’s determination to maintain a policy of free trade. Situated in an area that benefited from Dutch, British, and south German trade, Hanover’s low tariff policies allowed cane sugar to flow freely through the kingdom and thus precluded any serious investment in beet sugar production. Meanwhile, Prussia and its allies in the Zollverein (Customs Union) began in the 1830s to establish tariffs and incentives that fostered development of beet sugar operations in their lands.

Wallbaum devotes considerable effort to explain the delayed beginning of Hanover’s beet sugar industry. He emphasizes exogenous factors, such as the ideology of free trade, the location of railroad routes and coal supplies, and insufficient beet cultivation, rather than any inherent disadvantages of Hanover. A crucial turning point came when Hanover agreed to join the Zollverein in 1854. In impressive detail, Wallbaum presents the history of two new facilities established by 1857 at Einbeck and Gehrden. He shows that investors in Einbeck were motivated in part by the argument that industrial jobs would prevent another uprising among the lower classes (a reference to the revolutionary year of 1848), and by a sophisticated campaign to recruit industrial investors that included a document prepared by a local banker carefully explaining anticipated profits. Wallbaum shows clearly that investors came from a cross-section of bourgeois, artisan, trade, and agricultural interests, and thus were unlike the planter-dominated sugar operations found on many Prussian estates.

Wallbaum’s study devotes greatest attention to the period between 1869 and 1885, when the number of beet sugar factories in Hanover (a province of Prussia since 1866) increased from five to forty-five. With the archival evidence pieced together from muster rolls, shareholder account books, farm and business contracts, labour records, local newspapers, and scores of other primary sources, Wallbaum is able to explain virtually every aspect of the business history. His documents reveal the social background of the major and minor stockholders, the contracts that required shareholders to grow beets for their firm’s exclusive use, company regulations on growers’ use of fertilizer and seed, networks established for the supplying of coal and coke, and the implementation of the new diffusion-process technology. As the new firms came on line, sugar industrialists entered into a “wild hunt” (p. 193) for adequate beet supplies, lobbied local entities for investments in roads and railroads, competed fiercely for favourable railroad freight rates, and continually expanded their facilities and investments in technologies in order to maintain competitiveness.

Wallbaum’s sections on the social implications of the industry are less complete. Still, he does offer interesting information about the decline of female and child labour in the factories, efforts to discipline the work force, and the recruitment of migrant workers, Polish and others. Overall, the implication is that both employers and employees profited during Hanover’s era of rural industrialization. For instance, records from the Ahstedt-Schelleter plant (the one for which the author has his most complete set of data) show that while wages rose steadily in the 1870s and 1880s, the firm also benefited because the labour costs per unit of production steadily declined. However, increasing competition and declining profits sparked a phase of consolidation in the Hanoverian beet sugar industry. Following the dramatic end of sugar export subsidies at the Brussels Convention of 1902, a number of less efficient firms closed their doors before the outbreak of World War 1, when the study ends.

In the midst of the book’s 60 tables, 15 charts, 21 appendices, and 1074 footnotes, Wallbaum’s central argument often lies a bit below the surface. He presumes the reader has some familiarity with German sugar history, and his focus on local circumstances means that he does not step back to address his work’s implications for broader issues of German social and economic history or for the world history of sugar in general.

Nonetheless, he makes a convincing case that the Hanoverian beet sugar industry deserves more attention. First, he shows how the region became a major contributor to the world sugar market, early on rivaling the production of the better-known sugar regions around Braunchweig and Magdeburg. The region remains an important producer today. Second, Wallbaum demonstrates the role that sugar played in bringing an industrial transformation to what had been a predominantly rural economy. Through sugar came the expansion of ancillary activities like the fertilizer industry, the manufacture of agricultural machinery, and investment in roads, railroads, and other infrastructural improvements. There arose an awareness of the environmental consequences of hasty industrialization. Farmers who remained in the business shifted to more intensive modes of production.

In sum, the book succeeds as a history of a neglected chapter in sugar history and as a corrective to Prussocentric assumptions in German economic history. Without question, anyone interested in the history of the European sugar industry should give this work a careful reading.

Mark Finlay
Armstrong Atlantic State University

Roger Munting and Tamás Szmrecsányi, eds., Competing for the Sugar Bowl (St. Katharinen, Germany: Scripta Mercaturae Verlag, 2000). Pp. xii + 193. DM 44. ISBN 3-89590-094-X.

This book comprises an introductory overview by the editors and ten chapters drawn mostly from academics with backgrounds in geography, sociology, economics, and economic history. Eight of the chapters are revised versions of papers delivered at the Twelfth International Economic History Congress (session C36: “Sugar and Alternative Sweeteners in Historical Perspective”) held in Madrid in 1998. The two chapters by Michael Mende and Jock Galloway are original contributions. The book’s ten essays are arranged into two sets. Six chapters make up Part 1 and supposedly refer to the competition between cane sugar and beet sugar. The other four are concerned with the competition of sugar with alternative sweeteners.

Part 1 of the volume is not very cohesive. Roger Munting and John Perkins introduce the theme of competition between cane and sugar beet by examining the international rivalry between cane and beet during the nineteenth century. It is a useful overview to the growth in the competition for the sugar bowl. The next two chapters concentrate on the German sugar beet industry. George Vascik in his essay on state policy and differential development in the German sugar industry, 1800-1871, highlights how Prussia developed a large flourishing sugar sector, while Bavaria did not. Michael Mende’s main argument in his chapter on beet sugar production in north-west Germany during the nineteenth century is that the manufacturing sector demanded sugar-rich beet, while the farmers a ready market for their crops of beet. As a geographer, I enjoyed George Vascik’s analysis of why an industrial activity should appear in one locality but not another. Michael Mende’s chapter provides new insights into the improvements in the beet-sugar manufacturing process in the 1830s and 1840s. Yet, I was left wondering what these accounts had to do with the theme of this section.

The changing occupational status of sugar chemists and pan-boilers in South African sugar mills is the subject of the next chapter by David Lincoln. I found this material on the labour relations very thought provoking, and could see many parallels with the Australian sugar industry, especially as both countries relied on Mauritius as a source of pan-boilers and technologists. Yet, again, I was left wondering about the relevance of this material in a section on competition between beet and cane sugar.

Jock Galloway’s chapter provides a detailed analysis of the fluctuating fortunes of the Caribbean sugar industry during the twentieth century, highlighting the main causes of the long-run decline of the region’s participation in the world sugar market. This account makes a very important contribution to the sugar historiography of the Caribbean, which tends to be dominated by studies set in the nineteenth century, but adds little to our understanding of the competition between beet and cane sugar.

Part 1 ends with a contribution from Geoffrey Spenceley, who examines the negotiations conducted between the cane sugar producers in developing countries and Australia and the European Community, following Britain’s entry into the EC in 1973. This chapter is a welcome addition to the literature on post-1945 developments in the Australian sugar industry, which has received limited attention from academics. Moreover, it provides useful insights into the outcomes of competition between cane sugar producers, especially Australia, and the EC, dominated by beet-sugar producers.

Part 2 of this volume is more cohesive. It begins with a very informative chapter by Christoph Maria Merki, who traces the development of saccharin from a prohibited substance in various European countries in the 1890s to an officially promoted substance during the First World War. A particularly entertaining section in this essay concerns an Austrian gang in the 1910s who dissolved saccharin with wax in ether, and formed it into candles that were dispatched to a Vienna devotional shop via a place of religious pilgrimage in Switzerland. Here they were immersed in a solution of caustic soda from which the saccharin could be separated with hydrochloric acid. Michale Zitt and Ernestine Bassecoulard consider the development of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), which emerged as a rival to sucrose in its industrial (liquid) applications during the 1970s. The details about the spread of this technological innovation from Japan to the USA, and its resistance in the EC, make a significant contribution to the understanding of the growth in the competition between sugar and alternative sweeteners. The chapter also contains an excellent analysis of the complex invention process that led to the development of HFCS.

The main reason why HFCS so easily displaced sucrose in the USA since the 1970s is presented in the next essay by Leo C. Polopolus. This very readable account makes an important addition to the growing amount of literature on the challenges facing beet and cane sugar producers by corn sweeteners and non-caloric sweeteners. As the editors point out, the historical study of the competition among alternative sweeteners is still in its early stage.

The final contribution of Tamás Szmrecsányi and Victor Alvarez examines how artificial sweeteners have been eroding considerably the world demand for cane and sugar beet. This essay rounds off Part 2, but it is a fitting conclusion because the authors indicate that the competition for the sugar bowl is likely to get more intense in the near future.

My overall conclusion is that Competing for the Sugar Bowl has much to offer sugar specialists who are looking for a collection of essays on different topics or those economic historians and economic geographers with an interest in understanding competition between products.

Peter Griggs
James Cook University, Cairns Campus


The II International Colloquium on Social History has as its focus sugar and slavery in the Caribbean, with special attention to the end of slavery in Cuba and Puerto Rico. The conference is to be held 1-3 October, 2001, at the Universitat Jaume 1, Benicassim-Castellon, Spain. For information, contact Vicent Sanz, Departamento de Historia, Geografía y Arte, Campus de Borriol, Universitat Jaume 1, 12080 Castellón, Spain. Tel: 964 72 91 45. Fax: 964 72 93 45.


Chris West, of Richmond on Thames, London, England, is very interested in the locomotives that were used on sugar plantations and would appreciate any information readers may be able to provide. He would like information on the name of the plantation/factory; manufacturer of locomotives, wagons, and trackwork; date when installed; traction, i.e. steam/diesel/electricity (this last is very unusual, but an example is Hershey, Cuba); and any other details about the locomotives and gauges. He can be contacted at

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