Chemically, sugar is a compound belonging to the group of carbohydrates, or organic compounds of carbon with oxygen and hydrogen. The group includes sugars, starches, gums, and celluloses. Sugar is a product of the vegetable kingdom, of plants, trees, root crops, etc. It is found in and is producible from many growths. As a laboratory process, it is obtainable from many sources, but, commercially, it is derived from only two, the sugar cane and the beet root. This statement, however, has a certain limitation in that it omits such products as maple sugar, malt sugar, milk sugar, and others having commercial or chemical uses on a limited scale. But it is only with the crystallized sucrose, the familiar sugar of the market and the household, that we are dealing here. The output of the other sugars is measurable in hundreds or even thousands of pounds, but the output of the sugar of commerce is measured in millions of tons. Long experience proves that the desired substance is most readily, most abundantly, and most cheaply, obtained from the juices of the plant commonly known as sugar cane, and from the vegetable known as the sugar beet.

The mechanical processes employed in producing sugar from cane and from beets, are practically the same. They are, broadly, the extraction or expression of the juices, their clarification and evaporation, and crystallization. These processes produce what is called "raw sugar," of varying percentages of sucrose content. Following them, there comes, for American uses, the process of refining, of removing the so-called impurities and foreign substances, and the final production of sugar in the shape of white crystals of different size, of sugar as powdered, cube, loaf, or other form. In the case of cane sugar, this is usually a secondary operation not conducted in the original mill. In the case of beet sugar, production is not infrequently a continuous operation in the same mill, from the beet root to the bagged or barrelled sugar ready for the market. The final product from both cane and beet is practically the same. Pure sugar is pure sugar, whatever its source. In the commercial production, on large scale, there remains a small fraction of molasses or other harmless substances, indistinguishable by sight, taste, or smell. With that fraction removed and an absolute 100 per cent. secured, there would be no way by which the particular origin could be determined. For all practical purposes, the sugar of commerce, whether from cane or beet, is pure sugar. It is doubtful if an adulterated sugar can be found in the United States, notwithstanding the tales of the grocer who "sands" his sugar, and of the producer who adds terra alba or some other adulterant. In some countries of Europe and elsewhere, there are sugars of inferior grades, of 85 or 90 or more degrees of sugar purity, but they are known as such and are sold at prices adjusted to their quality. Sugars of that class are obtainable in this country, but they are wanted almost exclusively for particular industrial purposes, for their glucose rather than their sucrose content. The American household, whether the home of the rich or of the poor, demands the well-known white sugar of established purity.

There is still obtainable, in this country, but in limited quantity, a sugar very pleasantly remembered by many who have reached or passed middle age. It was variously known as "Muscovado" sugar, or as "plantation sugar," sometimes as "coffee" or "coffee crushed." It was a sugar somewhat sweeter to the taste than the white sugar, by reason of the presence of a percentage of molasses. It was a superior sugar for certain kitchen products, for pies, certain kinds of cake, etc. It has many times been urged in Congress that the employment of what is known as the Dutch Standard, now abolished, excluded this sugar from our market. This is not at all the fact. The disappearance of the commodity is due solely to change in the mechanical methods of sugar production. It would be quite impossible to supply the world's sugar demand by the old "open kettle" process by which that sugar was made. The quality of sugar is easily tested by any one who has a spoonful of sugar and a glass of water. If the sugar dissolves entirely, and dissolves without discoloring the water, it may be accepted as a pure sugar.

In his book on The World's Cane Sugar Industry - Past and Present, Mr. H.C. Prinsen Geerligs, a recognized expert authority on the subject, gives an elaborate history of the origin and development of the industry. His chapters on those branches are much too long for inclusion in full, but the following extracts tell the story in general outline. He states that the probability that sugar cane originally came from India is very strong, "as only the ancient literature of that country mentions sugar cane, while we know for certain that it was conveyed (from there) to other countries by travellers and sailors." The plant appears in Hindu mythology. A certain prince expressed a desire to be translated to heaven during his lifetime, but Indra, the monarch of the celestial regions, refused to admit him. A famous Hindu hermit, Vishva Mitra, prepared a temporary paradise for the prince, and for his use created the sugar cane as a heavenly food during his occupation of the place. The abode was afterward demolished, but the delectable plant, and a few other luxuries, were "spread all over the land of mortals as a permanent memorial of Vishva Mitra's miraculous deeds." In the time of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) there appear tales of "a reed growing in India which produced honey without the aid of bees."

The early references are to sugar cane and not to cane sugar. While there may have been earlier experiences, the history of sugar, as such, seems to begin in the 7th century (A.D.). There is a story that the Chinese Emperor, Tai Tsung (627-650 A.D.) sent people to Behar, in India, to learn the art of sugar manufacture. The Arabs and the Egyptians soon learned how to purify sugar by re-crystallization, and to manufacture sweetmeats from the purified sugar. Marco Polo, who visited China during the last quarter of the 13th Century, refers to "a great many sugar factories in South China, where sugar could be freely bought at low prices." The Mohammedan records of that period also show the manufacture, in India, of crystallized sugar and candy. The area of production at that time covered, generally, the entire Mediterranean coast. The crusaders found extensive plantations in Tripoli, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Syria, and elsewhere. The plant is said to have been introduced in Spain as early as the year 755. Its cultivation is said to have been a flourishing industry there in the year 1150. Through China, it was early extended to Japan, Formosa, and the Philippines. The records of the 14th Century show the production and distribution of sugar as an important commercial enterprise in the Mediterranean region. The Portuguese discoveries of the 15th Century carried the plant to the Azores, the Cape Verde islands, and to possessions in the Gulf of Guinea. The Spaniards took it to the Western Hemisphere in the early years of the 16th Century. The Portuguese took it to Brazil at about the same time. While a Chinese traveller, visiting Java in 424, reports the cultivation of sugar cane, it was not until more than twelve hundred years later that the island, now an important source of sugar supply, began the production of sugar as a commercial enterprise. By the end of the 18th Century there was what might be called a sugar belt, girdling the globe and extending, roughly, from thirty-five degrees north of the equator to thirty-five degrees south of that line. It was then a product of many of the countries within those limits. The supply of that time was obtained entirely from cane.

The early years of the 19th Century brought a new experience in the sugar business. That was the production of sugar, in commercial quantities, from beets. From that time until now, the commodity has been a political shuttlecock, the object of government bounties and the subject of taxation. In 1747, Herr Marggraf, of the Academy of Sciences, in Berlin, discovered the existence of crystallizable sugar in the juice of the beet and other roots. No practical use was made of the discovery until 1801 when a factory was established near Breslau, in Silesia. The European beet-sugar industry, that has since attained enormous proportions, had its actual beginning in the early years of the 19th Century. It was a result of the Napoleonic wars of that period. When the wars were ended, and the blockades raised, the industry was continued in France by the aid of premiums, differentials, and practically prohibitory tariffs. The activities in other European countries under similar conditions of governmental aid, came a little later. The total world supply of sugar, including cane and beet, less than 1,500,000 tons, even as recently as 1850, seems small in comparison with the world's requirement of about twelve times that quantity at the present time. The output of beet sugar was then only about 200,000 tons, as compared with a present production of approximately 8,000,000 tons. But sugar was then a costly luxury while it is today a cheaply supplied household necessity. As recently as 1870, the wholesale price of granulated sugar in New York was thirteen and a half cents a pound, or about three times the present average.

Cane sugar is produced in large or small quantities in some fifty different countries and islands. In many, the output is only for domestic consumption, or in quantity too small to warrant inclusion in the list of sources of commercial supply. Sixteen countries are included in the list of beet-sugar producers. Of these, all are in Europe with the exception of the United States and Canada. Only two countries, the United States and Spain, produce sugar from both beet and cane. British India leads in the production of cane sugar, with Cuba a close second on the list, and Java the third. In their total, these three countries supply about two-thirds of the world's total output of cane sugar. Hawaii and Porto Rico, in that order, stand next on the list of producers. Under normal conditions, Germany leads in beet-sugar production, with Russia second, Austria-Hungary third, France fourth, and the United States fifth, with Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, and Denmark following. The island of Cuba is the most important source of commercial cane sugar. Immediately before the revolution of 1895, its output a little exceeded a million tons. The derangement caused by that experience covered several years, and it was not until 1903 that so large a crop was again made. Since that time, the output has more than doubled. The increase is attributable to the large increase in demand in the United States, and to the advantage given Cuban sugar in this market by the reciprocity treaty of 1903. Practically all of Cuba's export product is in the class commonly known as 96 degree centrifugals, that is, raw sugar of 96 per cent, or thereabout, of sugar content. Under normal conditions, nearly all of Cuba's shipments are to the United States. The sugar industry was introduced in Cuba very soon after the permanent settlement of the island, by Spaniards, in the early years of the 16th Century, but it was not until two hundred and fifty years later that Spain's restrictive and oppressive colonial policy made even its fair extension possible. In 1760, two and a half centuries after the first settlement, the sugar exports of the island were a little less than 4,400 tons. In 1790, they were a little more than 14,000 tons. Some relaxation of the laws regulating production and exportation, made possible an increase to 41,000 tons in 1802, and further relaxation made possible, in 1850, an output somewhat unreliably reported as 223,000 tons. It reached 632,000 tons in 1890, and the stimulus of the "free sugar" schedule of the United States brought it, in the next few years, to more than a million tons. Production in recent years has averaged about 2,500,000 tons.

In forty years, only a little more than a single generation, the world's supply of sugar has been multiplied by five, from a little more than three million tons a year to nearly eighteen million tons. The total world output in 1875 would not today supply the demand of the United States alone. This increase in production has been made possible by improvements in the methods and the machinery of manufacture. Until quite recently, primitive methods were employed, much like those used in the production of maple sugar on the farm, although on larger scale. More attention has been paid to varieties of the plant and some, though no very great, change has been made in field processes. In Cuba, the cane is planted in vast areas, in thousands of acres. Some of the estates plant and cultivate their own fields, and grind the cane in their own mills. Others, known as "colonos," are planters only, the crop being sold to the mills commonly called "centrales." In its general appearance, a field of sugar-cane looks quite like a field of corn, but the method of cultivation is somewhat different. The slow oxen are still commonly used for plowing and for carts. This is not because of any lack of progressive spirit, but because experience has shown that, under all conditions of the industry, the ox makes the most satisfactory and economical motive power, notwithstanding his lack of pace.

The Encyclopaedia describes sugar-cane as "a member of the grass family, known botanically as Saccbarum officinarum. It is a tall, perennial grass-like plant, giving off numerous erect stems 6 to 12 feet or more in height, from a thick solid jointed root-stalk." The ground is plowed in rows in which, not seed, but a stalk of cane is lightly buried. The rootlets and the new cane spring from the joints of the planted stalk which is laid flat and lengthwise of the row. It takes from a year to a year and a half for the stalk to mature sufficiently for cutting and grinding. Several cuttings, and sometimes many, are made from a single planting. There are tales of fields on which cane has grown for forty years without re-planting. A few years ago, ten or fifteen years was not an unusual period. The present tendency is toward more frequent planting, but not annual, as offering a better chance for stronger cane with a larger sugar content. The whole process of cultivation and field treatment is hard, heavy work, most of it very hard work. Probably the hardest and heaviest is the cutting. This is done with a long, heavy-bladed knife, the machete. The stalk, from an inch to two inches in thickness, is chopped down near the root, the heavy knife swung with cut after cut, under a burning sun. Only the strongest can stand it, a wearying, back-breaking task. After cutting, the stalk is trimmed and loaded on carts to be hauled, according to distance, either directly to the mill or to the railway running thereto. The large estates have their own railway systems running to all the fields of the plantation. These are private lines operated only for economy in cane transportation. Most of the crushing mills measure their daily consumption of cane in thousands of tons. While every precaution is taken, there are occasional fires. In planting, wide "fire lanes," or uncultivated strips are left to prevent the spread of fire if it occurs.

Mill installations vary on the different plantations, but the general principle of operation is the same on all. The first process is the extraction of the juice that carries the sugar. It is probable that this was originally done in hand mortars. Next came the passing of the cane between wooden rollers turned by ox power, the rollers standing upright and connected with a projecting shaft or beam to the outer end of which the animal was attached, to plod around and around while the cane was fed between the rollers. The present system is merely an expansion of that old principle. At the mill, the stalks are dumped, by carload or by cartload, into a channel through which they are mechanically conveyed to huge rollers, placed horizontally, arranged in pairs or in sets of three, and slowly turned by powerful engines. The larger mills have a series of these rollers, two, three, or even four sets, the stalks passing from one to another for the expression of every possible drop of the juice, up to the point where the cost of juice extraction exceeds the value of the juice obtained. The expressed juices are collected in troughs through which they are run to the next operation. The crushed stalks, then known as bagasse, are conveyed to the huge boilers where they are used as fuel for the generation of the steam required in the various operations, from the feeding and the turning of the rollers, to the device from which the final product, the crystallized sugar, is poured into bags ready for shipment. All this is a seasonal enterprise. The cane grows throughout the year, but it begins to ripen in December. Then the mills start up and run until the rains of the next May or June suspend further operations. It then becomes impossible to haul the cane over the heavily mired roads from the muddy fields. Usually, only a few mills begin their work in December, and early June usually sees most of them shut down. The beginning of the rainy season is not uniform, and there are mills in eastern Cuba that sometimes run into July and even into August. But the general grinding season may be given as of about five months duration, and busy months they are. The work goes on night and day.

The next step is the treatment of the juices expressed by the rollers and collected in the troughs that carry it onward. The operations are highly technical, and different methods are employed in different mills. The first operation is one of purification. The juice, as it comes from the rollers, carries such materials as glucose, salts, organic acids, and other impurities, that must be removed. For this, lime is the principal agent. The details of it all would be as tedious here as they are complicated in the mill. The percentages of the different impurities vary with the variation of the soils in which the cane is grown. The next step, following clarification, is evaporation, the boiling out of a large percentage of the water carried in the juice. For this purpose, a vacuum system is used, making possible a more rapid evaporation with a smaller expenditure of fuel. These two operations, clarification and evaporation by the use of the vacuum, are merely improved methods for doing, on a large scale, what was formerly done by boiling in pans or kettles, on a small scale. That method is still used in many parts of the world, and even in the United States, in a small way. For special reasons, it is still used on some of the Louisiana plantations; it is common in the farm production of sorghum molasses in the South; and in the manufacture of maple sugar in the North. In those places, the juices are boiled in open pans or kettles, the impurities skimmed off as they rise, and the boiling, for evaporation, is continued until a proper consistency is reached, for molasses in the case of sorghum and for crystallization in the case of plantation and maple sugars. There is an old story of an erratic New England trader, in Newburyport, who called himself Lord Timothy Dexter. In one of his shipments to the West Indies, a hundred and fifty years ago, this picturesque individual included a consignment of "warming pans," shallow metal basins with a cover and a long wooden handle, used for warming beds on cold winter nights. The basin was filled with coals from the fireplace, and then moved about between the sheets to take off the chill. He was not a little ridiculed by his acquaintances for sending such merchandise where it could not possibly be needed, but it is said that he made considerable money out of his enterprise. With the covers removed, the long-handled, shallow basins proved admirably adapted for use in skimming the sugar in the boiling-pans. But the old-fashioned method would be impossible today.

The different operations are too complicated and too technical for more than a reference to the purpose of the successive processes. Clarification and evaporation having been completed, the next step is crystallization, also a complicated operation. When this is done, there remains a dark brown mass consisting of sugar crystals and molasses, and the next step is the removal of all except a small percentage of the molasses. This is accomplished by what are called the centrifugals, deep bowls with perforated walls, whirled at two or three thousand revolutions a minute. This expels the greater part of the molasses, and leaves a mass of yellow-brown crystals, the coloring being due to the molasses remaining. This is the raw sugar of commerce. Most of Cuba's raw product is classed as "96 degree centrifugals," that is, the raw sugar, as it comes from the centrifugal machines and is bagged for shipment, is of 96 degrees of sugar purity. This is shipped to market, usually in full cargo lots. There it goes to the refineries, where it is melted, clarified, evaporated, and crystallized. This second clarification removes practically everything except the pure crystallized sugar of the market and the table. It is then an article of daily use in every household, and a subject of everlasting debate in Congress.