In studying sugar and sugarcane (go here for the project index) we need to study the sugar beet; sugarcane's competitor.
Here we'll look at the sugar beet's early history.
Sugar beets were not economically important as a source of sucrose until the mid-1800s.
In 1774 a German scientist discovered the sugar from beets was the same as from cane.
Napoleon, due to the economic and real war with England, bet big on sugar beets. In 1811 he supported vast increase in sugar beet production. Within 2 years they built 334 factories and produced 35,000 tons of sugar.
To process sugar beets, they are sliced, dried, drenched with alcohol (I know the feeling some nights), heated to boiling, and filtered. Then crystals formed after several weeks. But this technology was later refined.
By the end of 1800s sugar beets were planted in North America. Sugar beets best regions to grow in the US are part of California extending east to Michigan, and in Canada from British Columbia to Ontario.
The Mormons tried to grow sugar beets as part of their independence movement, but they failed to produce any crystallized sugar with it. There were many other successes and failures trying to grow sugar beet in US.
By 1902 41 factories produced over 2 million tons of sugar from beets. by 1915, there 79 factories in operation, partly due to high war prices.
The first American farm workers’ union strike was over sugar beets in 1903 at the American Beet Company in Oxnard, California. It employed 1000 Mexicans and Japanese, who went on strike basically against the white workers who formed organizations to keep the wages of the others low.
During the Great Depression, sugar beet harvesting provided lots of jobs.
After Pearl Harbor, thousands of Japanese and Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps: actually sugar beet farms in Oregon, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Alberta, and Manitoba, to work the fields.
Later we'll look at sugar beet production in recent times.