Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Sweet Colorado: The Rise & Fall of Sugar Factories

Blogger: Amber Schamel
A Beet Sugar Factory in Monte Vista 1912

Growing up, I remember hearing stories from my great-grandmother about her father working in a sugar factory in Loveland, Colorado. She would talk about him bringing home “burnt sugar” as a treat for the kids. So when I needed a factory for Solve by Christmas, it was natural for me to choose a sugar factory. I ended up having a lot of fun with the research, so I wanted to share some of it with you.

The sugar factories were a large contributor to the communities in Loveland, Longmont, Brighton and northeastern Colorado. The industry thrived there for around 70 years, from the late 1800’s to around 1970. In fact, beet sugar was the most important agricultural activity in Colorado during the early to mid 1900’s. According to the Colorado Encyclopedia, twenty sugar factories were built in Colorado between 1899-1920. In the early 1900’s, a tariff was enacted on sugar, which aided the mills here in Colorado by spiking sugar prices. Then came the sugar act of 1948, which also aided the industry.

The process is not too different from what we have today, except that our technological advancements have made the process much easier. When the beets are first shipped in, many times by train, they must be washed. Then they are cut into tiny French-fry type shapes called casets. The cut pieces are then soaked for a period of time to allow the cell membranes to open up, this allows for the next step, which they call extraction. The extraction process consists of boiling down the beets in water until it becomes “raw juice”. Next the juice goes through a purification process that involves limestone, kok, and carbon dioxide. Once the juice is purified, it goes through the evaporation process. Don’t let that name fool you, because at the end, it’s still liquid, however the juice is thick and syrupy. Finally, the thick juice goes to the crystallization machine. Here, you need ‘seed crystals’ and lots of heat to get the crystals to form. Then the crystals are separated from the syrup and dried before the sugar is ready for packaging.

GWS Factory in Longmont 1960's
 Great Western Sugar, Collection #1021720282,
CSU Libraries, Archives & Special Collections
As you can imagine, all of these processes created many jobs. Each factory typically employed between 100-200 workers, and that’s besides the many who worked on the farming side, most of which were immigrants. While this process sounds complicated, it is usually less complex than the process to make cane sugar.

The old machines used in these processes are fascinating to me, however I found very limited information on how they worked. I did find some images of several factories during the early 1900’s, so that helped immensely in my research and writing details.

Most factories made their own sugar sacks as well, so they had an entire section of the factory where women would sew the packages. Again, more jobs created.

Sugar machinery advertisement 1915

However, in the 1970’s, several events finally brought down the sugar mills. In late 1974, the sugar act expired, which yanked the advantages offered by the government. There was also a rising trend of using sugar alternatives, which were seen as healthier than sugar. Cane sugar was also competing for the market. Between all these elements, most of the sugar factories in Colorado are now ghosts of the past. Many of the remaining structures are being demolished.
There is currently only one Sugar factory remaining in Colorado. One in Fort Morgan owned by the Great Western Sugar Cooperative. However, the impact that this industry had on Colorado survives. Had it not been for the sugar industry, Colorado would not have prospered and grown at such a rapid pace. The industry also set a precedence for agriculture that still exists today. 

Amber's book, Solve by Christmas was awarded the 2018 Christian Indie Award! To celebrate, she's hosting a giveaway for her fantastic readers. The prize includes her two award winning titles, book swag, and a custom Solve by Christmas mug! You can access that giveaway by clicking here.
Keep up to date with Amber and all her historical adventures on her website,


  1. Thanks for the information! I never knew Colorado had a sugar industry; I always thought that was a "deep south" thing. I love how I learn something every day following this blog!

  2. Good morning, Connie, and thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. It was fun for me to learn the history of my home state as well.

    I've been a fan of HHHISTORY for years too, even before I joined the wonderful group of authors. :)

  3. Great post about Colorado sugar industry. I always enjoy learning new historical information.

    Congratulations, on Jasper winning the Christian Indie Award. Solve by Christmas was a wonderful story with a sugar factory involved. : )

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed learning about it, Marilyn. :)

      Aww, thank you. It's all due to wonderful readers like yourself.