This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
The value of sugar imported into the United States, is greater than that of any other single article of commerce. In the year 1880 it appears that over one thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine million pounds of sugar were brought here from other countries, at a cost of nearly one hundred and twenty million dollars, including customs duty. Moreover, the consumption of sugar, per capita, in this country is rapidly increasing. It was, during the ten years next preceding 1870, only 28 pounds on the average per annum, but, in the ten years next following, an average of 38 pounds per annum were consumed for each person of the population of this country. This appears to be an increase of 35 per centum in ten years.
The subject of domestic cultivation of sugar bearing plants is, therefore, one of great importance to this nation, and it has accordingly engaged the attention of the U.S. Commissioner of Agriculture, and many experiments have been made in different parts of the country in the propagation of the various canes, roots, etc., from which sugar can be made. Among sugar-bearing plants, beside the regular sugar cane, are, sorghum, sugar beet, maple, watermelon, sweet and white potato, and corn stalk.
Statistics show that of the 12,000,000,000 pounds of sugar produced in the world, about three-fourths comes from the sugar cane, and the other fourth comes mainly from the sugar beet. Of the total quantity, only about one seventieth is produced in the United States, and that is mainly cane sugar from Louisiana. The beet sugar has formerly been mainly produced in Europe. First France, second Germany, third Russia, then Belgium, Austria, Holland, Sweden, and Italy.
The consumption of sugar in Great Britain is much greater per capita than in the United States, about 65 pounds, or nearly double; while in Germany 19 pounds per annum are used on an average by each person, and in Russia the consumption is much less.
The importance of this subject to the United States, where the consumption of sugar is increasing out of ratio to the production of sugar-bearing plants, and where agricultural independence should be realized, as we have already attained and maintained political independence, and almost independence in manufacturing industries, has called out Mr. Lewis S. Ware, a member of the American Chemical Society, etc., in a pamphlet of over 60 pages, entitled a "Study of the Various Sources of Sugar."
From this publication it appears that the main source of sugar supply must still be sucrose, cane sugar, even in spite of the best efforts of the general government and of the State agricultural organizations to introduce sugar-bearing plants that will thrive in the temperate and colder latitudes of this country. With the single exception of the sugar beet, he seems to disparage all attempts to produce practical sugar from hardy plants, or those that will mature in the region of frosts in winter. Even sorghum, that has for twenty years held a place in the hopes of the northern farmer, has declined so that the alleged production of half a million pounds in 1866 had became barely a twelfth of a million pounds in 1877.
In his remarks on the synopsis of one hundred and eleven experiments, made at Washington, he says: "As may be noticed, thirty-five of them (111) would yield zero. If we take the average of the hundred and eleven experiments, we find as a yield 4.5 per cent., which result cannot possibly be practically accepted. In other words, our government, notwithstanding the favorable conditions under which they were made, prove that the sorghum utilization is fallacy in every sense of the word." ... "If sorghum is to be grown for its sirup, or for fodder, it will evidently render excellent service." It seems that less than four per cent. of crystallizable sugar in the sorghum juice will not pay the cost of making sugar from it, as it will not crystallize in a reasonable time, on account of the glucose in the juice, which, with the other impurities, will prevent the ready crystallization of four or five times their own weight of sucrose.
From the early history of sorghum, it appears that it was known as sorgo in the sixteenth century, while twenty or thirty varieties were known under different names in Egypt, Arabia, and Africa. Some of the names are, Chinese sugar cane, (sorgo), India cane, emphee or Coffers' bread, paindes anges, etc.
The later history of it shows that in 1850, Count Montigny sent the first samples from China to Europe. It had been used in the former country for thousands of years for the manufacture of red dye. The seeds were afterward sold in France for a franc each.
A variety came later to this country from Africa, through the agency of an Englishman named Wray, to whom is charged the effects of the delusive experiments of trying to make crystallized sugar from its juice, which have been going on in this country for twenty years. But two varieties of sorghum now remain, known as the Chinese and African types. Of all the other sugar plants, none except the maple tree (besides the sugar cane and the beet) seem to have yielded sugar to pay the cost of manufacture. The maple tree has yielded a total of 41,000,000 pounds in 1877. But as an industry by itself, it appears to be unprofitable, and maple sugar must be, and generally is, sold at a higher price per pound than cane sugar; moreover, it has not the qualities that are required in a general sweetner for culinary purposes.
The variety of sugar plant called amber cane is not very clearly defined, but it may be taken, from the description of the juice as to crystallizing qualities, as no better sugar producer than sorghum. It, with sorghum, is classed as a sub-variety of sugar cane, which will yield sirup and fodder, but will not crystallize under several months' time, and even then in but small percentage.
On the whole it appears, as before stated, that the sugar beet is the only practicable source of sugar for the Northern States, which, as experimentally shown, can be raised at a profit of forty six dollars per acre, against twenty dollars per acre, the profit of sugar making from cane in Louisiana. Upon this showing several beet sugar factories have been started in the United States and in Canada, and their products are said to be satisfactory, and have been sold at a profit in competition with imported beet sugar.
Mr. Ware recommends the establishment of beet sugar factories on a larger scale, to be managed by men who have had experience in this particular kind of sugar making, which seems to be a practical means of supplying ourselves with home-made sugar. It must be remembered, however, that the successful cultivation of an ample supply of beets to keep them at work is an essential prerequisite.